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.