So there is finally a conclusion. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will not be charged in connection with an alleged sexual assault. For many football-obsessed fans – not to mention the university – the ACC title, national championship and perhaps even the Heisman Trophy were hanging in the balance. For a young woman and a young man, it was merely their lives, their futures.
“We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable likelihood of conviction,” state attorney Willie Meggs said Thursday in Tallahassee, Fla. “After reviewing the facts in this case, we do not feel that we can reach those burdens.”
It is an unsatisfying resolution to an ugly and unsavory situation, but a resolution nonetheless, coming only two days before Duke and Florida State meet in Charlotte to determine the ACC champion.
There’s no way to sort through the right and wrong of the sexual-assault allegations against Winston. Both sides obviously believe they are right. The investigation, taking just under a year, has been tortured at best, subverted at worst. In the end, charges were not filed. If they had been, Winston would have been suspended, by university policy, until they were resolved.
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Like a jury verdict that baffles some and gratifies others, this is American justice, for better or for worse. Accusations are measured against evidence, and prosecutors decide whether to proceed. As Winston Churchill said about democracy, it’s the worst system of justice except for all the others that have been tried.
There are football issues here, but they are peripheral ones, minor concerns compared to the lives at stake – a female student who has since left Florida State, a male student facing potential felony charges.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said his team’s preparation never wavered, because even if Winston did not play, the Seminoles’ offense wouldn’t change. According to pregame.com, Winston’s absence would have meant a 13-point swing in the Las Vegas betting line, for what that’s worth.
Heisman Trophy voters have until Monday evening to submit their ballots, and with Winston’s status settled, he stands as the favorite (although Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch will have his supporters regardless).
The timing of the Winston announcement, coming two days before Saturday’s game, has turned what could have been a great sports story – powerful program seeking national title meets long-suffering upstart – into fodder for nattering nabobs of ninnyism, earnestly concerned about the Heisman implications of the allegations.
It’s a cultural problem, one of many issues surrounding the Winston case worth further thought. It has legitimately raised, yet again, questions about whether police departments in college towns treat superstar athletes differently.
It has legitimately raised, yet again, questions about whether he-said-she-said cases of sexual assault on college campuses are taken seriously – and all the chuckling and guffawing during Meggs’ news conference Thursday certainly didn’t look good. And if there’s a larger football question worth examining, perhaps it is how seriously character concerns should be weighed in awarding the Heisman Trophy.
As unfortunate as all of that is, there’s a greater sadness. In the end, what’s left is a young woman who believes she was raped and a young man who believes he was unjustly accused. This isn’t a football game. There are no winners here.