Column: Not the time to give Heisman to Winston

By next week, the people who make sure the nation has a player

worthy of the Heisman trophy – and the ESPN primetime show devoted

to it – will have had their say.

And then we’ll know just what the definition of integrity means

when it comes to handing out the little statue that means so

much.

Look at the stats, the charisma of Jameis Winston and it’s a no

brainer. The redshirt freshman has led Florida State to an

undefeated season so far, a No. 1 ranking, and almost surely a

berth in the BCS title game.

Look at the allegations of a woman who claims the star

quarterback raped her and it’s another story. Look at how

authorities in Tallahassee have handled it so far, and it’s

distasteful at best.

Innocent until proven guilty? A grand concept, and for that, we

should be grateful we have the judicial system to give us the final

say.

But this isn’t about a courtroom trial, or being judged by a

jury of peers. This has nothing to do with the possibility Winston

could face going to prison instead of the NFL.

This is about voting for the Heisman. And this is about a good

time to say no.

No to the notion that athletes should be exalted without

question. No to a football culture that the woman’s family members

said was so pervasive that detectives warned against pressing ahead

with charges.

No to those who say that the only thing that matters is how many

games you win, and how many alumni can brag they got tickets to the

BCS title game.

”If this was an issue like he stole a stereo or something I

might look at it differently,” said Richard Lapchick, the

excellent arbiter of ethics in sports today. ”But to turn a blind

eye to this would be a mistake.”

It would, because the Heisman is more than just an end of the

season award. It’s a trophy that has almost achieved a mythical

status, and it comes with the provision that the player not only

must be very skilled but possess a certain amount of integrity.

We know where Winston fits in the first requirement. He’s

completed two of every three passes, thrown for 35 touchdowns, and

led the Seminoles to within one game of the title game in

Pasadena.

But no one outside of Winston and his accuser can be sure how he

rates on the second.

Unfortunately, the wheels of justice sometimes move slowly. That

seems to be even truer in Tallahassee, where the family of the

woman claims police never presented a case to prosecutors from when

it was reported last December until it was reported on last

month.

When it was confirmed DNA was found in the underwear of the

accuser, Winston’s attorney said the sex was consensual.

The family hasn’t changed their stance once.

”To be clear, the victim did not consent,” the family said in

a statement. ”This was a rape.”

Winston, as is his right, has said nothing, either to police or

reporters. And as the clock ticks toward Monday’s balloting

deadline for the Heisman, prosecutors say they haven’t decided yet

what to do and will not rush their decision just to have it done by

the vote.

So Heisman voters are left with a dilemma. Do they go ahead and

award the trophy to the best man on the field, knowing that there’s

a possibility he could be charged with rape? Or do they take into

account the mission statement for the Heisman, which says the award

should go to ”the outstanding college football player whose

performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with

integrity.”

So far, the vote seems to be solidly on Winston’s side. Websites

that track the leanings of the 928 voters have him winning in a

landslide, and a small survey by The Associated Press last week

showed 27 of 33 voters would consider Winston even if prosecutors

had yet to determine whether to charge him by the time the ballots

were due.

Their argument is he’s yet to be charged with anything and to

deny him college football’s top award would be unfair if he is

indeed innocent. But another argument could be made that he

shouldn’t have even been playing this season if Florida State was

aware that the woman identified him as far back as January as her

attacker.

It’s not just a football issue, either. A 2007 Department of

Justice study showed one in seven coeds reported being victims of

completed sexual assaults at some point in their college lives.

Most happened while they were incapacitated by alcohol or drugs,

and only a small percentage were ever officially reported.

”It’s such a huge issue to honor somebody with that cloud over

them,” said Lapchick, who heads The Institute for Diversity and

Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. ”For that

reason, it has to be considered.”

It does, and it should. Sadly, there’s an awfully good chance it

won’t.

Is Jameis Winston the best college player in the country? Yes he

is, and there’s a good chance he will be again next year if

circumstances allow.

But he’s not Heisman winning material right now. At least not

until a far bigger question is answered first.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or

http://twitter.com/timdahlberg