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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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