How will Fisher handle Dalvin Cook allegations after Johnson’s dismissal?
It turns out Florida State’s days of wearing the black hat in college football did not end with Jameis Winston’s departure for the NFL. On the contrary, Jimbo Fisher’s program is taking on even more villainous status this offseason with two players in the same month accused of violence against a woman.
And in fact, the latest disturbing report Friday — that an arrest warrant will be issued to FSU star running back Dalvin Cook, who, according to ESPN.com, allegedly punched a woman in the face "several times" outside of a bar — puts Fisher in quite the moral bind.
[Update: Cook has been charged with misdemeanor battery. He turned himself in to authorities Friday night, according to the Leon County Sheriff’s Department.]
Earlier this week, the coach took swift action in dismissing quarterback De’Andre Johnson as soon as video surfaced of the redshirt freshman punching a woman inside a Tallahassee bar. The coach had previously suspended Johnson indefinitely pending an investigation. He was charged with misdemeanor battery based on the video evidence.
Sadly, yet another Seminoles player is now accused of punching a woman, with the alleged victim telling ESPN.com that Cook split her bottom lip after getting into an argument when she refused to give another man her phone number. A separate witness confirmed that ". . . the girl got punched in the mouth."
Florida State announced Friday it has suspended Cook indefinitely.
Fisher took a strong stand against violence toward women in dismissing Johnson, but the precedent he set may now paint him in a corner. Kicking a third-string quarterback off the team was one thing. If the allegations against Cook are true, will Fisher have the fortitude to do it to a preseason Heisman contender who stands accused of essentially the same transgression? Or will the lack of video evidence (so far) give him cover to dish out a more modest punishment?
The college football world will be watching closely. His program is exhibiting a troubling pattern of misdeeds by his players. And national scrutiny regarding violence against women has never been higher. Fisher faces considerable pressure to treat Cook in the same fashion he did Johnson, or he’ll look like a hypocrite.
Notoriously defensive FSU fans will likely note, correctly, that off-field issues are hardly unique to their program. Sadly, player arrests are a rite of summer at many campuses. LSU, for one, recently dismissed defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao following his second arrest in a year and suspended three other players, including incumbent quarterback Anthony Jennings, following their arrests for an alleged apartment break-in.
But Florida State is under particular scrutiny for multiple reasons. For one thing, teams that win a national championship and 29 straight games garner more coverage than Music City Bowl teams. That’s the way news works. Meanwhile, the apparent police bungling of Winston’s 2012 rape investigation coupled with Fisher’s repeated coddling of his star player despite numerous off-field incidents drew national ire. And subsequent investigations by the New York Times and others uncovered other players who apparently avoiding discipline for various misdeeds.
Fisher took a hard-line stance with Johnson’s dismissal, but he didn’t have much of a choice once the public saw that video. It’s too soon to say how Cook’s case will play out, but the details alleged Friday are indisputably awful if true.
Rightly or wrongly, Florida State has become notorious for the type of entitled and inexcusable behavior by young males that our society no longer tolerates. Fisher can’t control what his players do late at night in the streets of Tallahassee, but he must choose carefully the message he decides to send about it.
Update (6:40 p.m. ET): FSU coach Jimbo Fisher released this statement Friday evening addressing both the Johnson and Cook incidents.
"Recent events at Florida State University involving members of my football team have brought a lot of attention to the school and program," Fisher said. "It is important to me that our fans and the public be aware that I do not tolerate the type of behavior that was captured on video and that was most recently alleged. We spend a good deal of time educating our student-athletes about appropriate behavior and their responsibilities as representatives of Florida State. The majority of our players are exemplary, but clearly we must place an even stronger emphasis on this, and I personally promise we will."
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.