Let’s start with what we know because there are still many unknowns about this case.
On Dec. 7, 2012 — just over 11 months ago — a police report was filed alleging that a female victim had been sexually assaulted in an apartment in Tallahassee, Fla. The alleged victim met with police early on the morning of the complaint. The victim, who the report says was drinking that night, said a sexual assault happened between 1:30 and 2 in the morning. During their investigation, the police took physical evidence and photos of the victim’s injuries. We do not know what this evidence is at this point.
The suspect was described as being between 5-9 and 5-11 and weighing 240 pounds with a muscular build.
For the past 11 months, the Tallahassee police investigated the alleged sexual assault and thus far had undertaken no action, while leaving the case open.
Jameis Winston, who was a freshman at FSU last year, has been identified as the suspect in the case by TMZ, but Winston’s attorney denies any improper behavior by his client.
Florida State issued a statement Wednesday night that said Winston’s status with the team had not changed.
Those are the facts as best they can be summarized.
Now let’s unpack these facts by examining some of the most common questions most of you would have.
2. Why is this story coming out now?
Probably because the victim or her advocates are frustrated by the inaction on the part of the Tallahassee police department. It has been 11 months and nothing has happened. If you take Winston’s attorney at his word, the quarterback hasn’t been interviewed by authorities.
An 11-month open investigation into a sexual assault charge is ludicrous no matter the side of the issue you’re on, unfair to the victim or the individual who has been wrongfully accused. (I don’t buy into the timing conspiracies here. If that was the case, why not leak this news the week of the Clemson game? Or the week before the season started? Or right before the BCS title game? I think the victim and her advocates are tired of waiting and became fearful that no action was going to happen, if ever, until the entire season was over).
A case like this typically isn’t that difficult to resolve — there either is enough evidence to bring sexual assault charges or there isn’t.
Why is nothing being done one way or the other?
Leaking the story to the media is a clear attempt to force the police department to finally take action and bring this case towards resolution.
3. What is Winston’s actual story?
According to his attorney, Winston hasn’t been interviewed by authorities about these allegations.
Again, how in the world is that possible?
If Winston’s attorney is being selective with his verb choice, he could be purposefully misleading here.
Has Winston provided a written statement to authorities outlining his version of the night’s events?
That’s the most likely case.
After all, if you found out you were accused of sexual assault and had nothing to do with it, wouldn’t you want to immediately tell your side of the story? One of the safest ways to do that would be via a written statement. It doesn’t allow any follow-up questions and your legal team can review your story in advance.
Of course, Winston could have immediately lawyered up and refused to cooperate with authorities at all, but that seems unlikely since in that situation you’re basically daring authorities to charge your client with a crime.
So it’s reasonable to assume that Winston has provided some version of his story to police.
If he truly hasn’t provided any story at all, then what have police been doing about these allegations for the past 11 months?
4. Keep in mind that sex crimes are among the most difficult to prosecute.
Why has there been 11 months of inaction?
The most likely explanation is that this case is somewhere in the middle ground between consensual sex and sexual assault. We like to believe that there’s a clear delineation between appropriate and inappropriate sexual conduct. Often, it’s much more murky than that.
If Winston was 100-percent innocent, it’s likely this case would have quickly been closed and it never would have gone public. If Winston was 100-percent guilty, he’d have already been charged with a crime.
Here we have an 11-month investigation with no action undertaken.
The uncertain truth is not surprising since generally sex crimes are "he said, she said" in nature. That is, a man and a woman are telling two different stories about what actually happened. Both can believe that they are completely in the right.
So what happened that night? Chances are investigators aren’t even certain.
5. Is it fair that sex accusations against anybody are made public before any charges are filed while victims are protected by law?
Put simply, no.
You can’t unring the bell of a sexual assault allegation. If Jameis Winston is 100-percent innocent, then he’s been wronged by this process.
But I think the alleged victim believes a crime was committed against her — by someone — for a couple of reasons.
First, keep in mind that making a demonstrably false accusation is liable under the law. That is, if you make false statements to the police, you’ve committed a crime. So it’s not like a woman — or man — can use this shield as a weapon.
Second, remember that sex crimes are dramatically underreported in this country. A woman is much more likely to keep quiet about sexual assault than she is to press charges. This woman contacted authorities within a couple of hours of an alleged sexual assault. The quicker you report a sexual assault crime, the more legitimacy you have with investigators and with physical examiners.
Would this woman subject herself to intense questioning, physical examinations by strangers — it’s reasonable to assume she was treated by medical professionals that night to assess her well-being and examine her for signs of physical trauma — if nothing at all happened to her?
6. But Florida State says Jameis Winston is 6-foot-4, 218 pounds and the police report says the suspect’s 5-9 to 5-11 and 240 pounds.
Easy there, Matlock.
Please stop with these tweets and e-mails. It’s amazing to me how eager fans are to believe that their own players are saints while their hated rivals are devils.
The weight is reasonably close to Winston’s listed weight and the height might only be off by a couple of inches. Is Winston actually 6-4 or is his height exaggerated, as is common with college athletes, and he’s actually 6-2? If so, could you confuse a guy who is 5-11 with one who is 6-2? Uh, yeah.
Even if the height is off by several inches, consider the difficult circumstances of a sexual assault. Was the suspect standing during the alleged sexual assault or laying down? Was it dark in the apartment? Had the victim been drinking?
We don’t know many of the circumstances surrounding this alleged sexual assault. There could be tons of reasons why the height doesn’t match perfectly.
My point, those of you incessantly tweeting about this are giving far too much weight to this bit of information.
7. How long has Florida State known about the investigation and that Winston was considered a suspect?
Florida State’s statement says nothing about when it became aware of this investigation, just that Winston remains eligible to play. So did Florida State find out this week like the rest of us? Or has the school known for awhile?
Keep in mind that Ohio State suspended Carlos Hyde three games for allegedly striking a woman at a club before the season started. (No charges were filed in that case). Vanderbilt immediately suspended four players and kicked them out of school when they were merely investigated for sexual assault, before any charges had been filed in the case.
How many Florida State administrators knew about this case? Did they conduct their own investigation or just accept their quarterback’s word? If they conducted their own investigation, how did they do it? Was Winston treated differently by FSU because he was a five-star Heisman-caliber quarterback? Would they have let a kicker or a third-string defensive end keep playing?
All of these questions just lead to bigger questions.
If your star quarterback is being investigated for felony sexual assault, is the investigation itself enough to strip away the privilege of playing football on scholarship at a university? Can you play him while the investigation is ongoing even if you believe he’s innocent? After all, how reliable can your investigation actually be? What if he gets charged with a crime the week before the BCS title game and you played him all season long knowing the charges might drop at any moment? On the other hand, what if he never gets charged with a crime and you punished him for a felony that never materialized?
How do you handle a situation like this?
8. What happens next?
You got me.
Until there’s a full release of the police’s investigation into this sexual assault, Jameis Winston’s future, Florida State’s championship dreams, the Heisman Trophy, and, most importantly, a young woman’s sexual assault allegations against a star quarterback and a powerful business enterprise, all hang in the balance.
And maybe the most important lesson of all is this one — can we please stop pretending that we know which athletes are good guys and which athletes are bad guys — based on a few football games.
Remember when getting paid for autographs seemed like a scandal?