Allegations shouldn’t define Winston’s Heisman standing

Let’s be clear: We don’t know enough right about the accusations
surrounding Jameis Winston to make a decision, one way or the
other.

Wednesday, TMZ
reported
that the Florida State quarterback and
Heisman Trophy frontrunner is being investigated for sexual battery,
nearly year-old allegations that his attorney denies. No charges have
been filed, and there is no change in Winston’s status with the
Seminoles.

I’m reminded of a line early in ‘Jerry
Maguire,’ where he’s standing outside a police department with his
client, who is being grilled by reporters.

“Listen,”
Tom Cruise’s character breaks in, “there’s no proof of anything except
that this guy is a sensational athlete.”

Really,
that’s the only thing we can say with any certainty right
now.

The Tallahassee Police Department report was
heavily redacted and it describes a suspect that doesn’t match the QBs
stature — it lists him between 5-foot-9 and 5-11 and 240 pounds and
Winston stands 6-4, 218 — and according to Winston’s attorney, Tim
Jansen, he’s never been questioned by the police in connection with the
incident.

“The matter was resolved and closed since
February,” Jansen told
the ‘Orlando Sentinel.’
“We don’t know why it is
out now. … In February, I talked with police and they informed me the
case was closed. Nothing has transpired since February and we were kind
of surprised it was re-opened.”

Of course, in the
court of public opinion, Winston is going to have this hanging over him,
no matter how this situation plays out. He’s another athlete in another
scandal.

In the
latest Heisman Forecast
, I went into what stands as
the central focus of the race heading into Week 12 of this season: The
debate between Winston and defending winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny
Manziel. By virtue of his play and where he’s carried the Seminoles,
he’s on his way to becoming the second redshirt freshman to win the
award.

Frankly, Wednesday’s news did nothing to
change that.

Policing morality is not part of my
obligations as a Heisman voter. I threw my support behind Cam Newton in
2010 despite the pay-for-play talk and last year Manziel, who was
arrested in a bar fight before his record-breaking campaign, topped my
ballot. For what it’s worth, we’ve already seen a felon win in Johnny
Rodgers (1972), a conviction for his role in a gas station hold-up he’s
seeking to have pardoned
.

None
of this is meant to belittle the circumstances that led to a police
report being filed after an incident on Dec. 7, 2012, in which a woman
alleged sexual assault was committed through the use of “physical force”
with a motive of “sexual gratification.” None of it is meant to
trivialize this disgusting, deplorable behavior and scale it down to the
impact it has on a 25-pound chunk of bronze.

This
case has a real victim and that we’re not hearing about it until 11
months later raises even more questions about whether his information
was being suppressed and why justice has yet to be delivered for the
woman at the center of this case.

But Winston, like
anyone facing allegations like these, deserves the benefit of the doubt.
If the investigation progresses to the point where he’s charged and
then found guilty, then we’ll have our answers. Until then, it’s our
duty as human beings to judge Winston on the only thing we can right
now: His play.

That takes us back to the
Heisman.

There will be voters that back away from
Winston, because until there is a resolution this story is only going to
become bigger and bigger as the Dec. 14 ceremony nears. No matter what
he does from here on out — and at this point it’s been impressive
enough to put him in the lead of this trophy chase in guiding the
Seminoles to a 9-0 record and No. 2 spot in the polls — this will be
part of any conversation with his
candidacy.

Can you vote for Winston knowing
he could be guilty?

If the case isn’t
closed before ballots are due, it will lead some to go with Manziel,
Alabama’s AJ McCarron or Baylor’s Bryce Petty. But much like Newton in
2010, voters owe it to the legacy of the Heisman to fill out their
ballots with only the concrete information available to them and until
formal charges are filed against Winston, this can’t be part of that
decision making.

Can you not vote for
Winston knowing he could be
innocent?

There’s no altering the votes. If
its found Winston did nothing wrong and that’s an error I would hope no
voter wants to live with. If he’s charged or if more information
surfaces, then as a voting populace steps can be made before or after
ballots are due. Reggie Bush had his ’05 trophy vacated and if need be,
the Heisman Trust can do it again.

Winston’s
reputation could be tarnished, and so too, could the the trophy if its
given to him. But it’s a risk that the award’s court of public opinion
may have to live with.

The Heisman is Jameis
Winston’s to lose. Nothing’s changed there.