"I've got to work," Jameis Winston, Heisman Trophy winner, No. 1 NFL draft pick and alleged serial rapist said Thursday night after being tapped to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "Actions speak so much louder than words, or what they may have read or what they may have heard. It's about your actions. Whatever is in the past is in the past. I look forward to gaining everyone's trust."
He won’t have to work very hard. For the Bucs, what’s past is most certainly past. “We’re so excited to get a guy like Jameis to be our future,” said general manager Jason Licht. “If he wasn’t a good guy, we wouldn’t have used the first pick on him.”
“Not only were we comfortable with him and his character, we’re confident in his character,” he continued. “We think that his character that he brings to the locker room and in the building is a strength. That’s one of the things that makes him a great player.”
The Bucs’ decision to draft Winston isn’t a surprise. His status as a top prospect was never really in question, even as damning reports on failed police investigations, destroyed evidence and civil lawsuits followed him over the last two years. The Bucs needed a franchise quarterback, and if that quarterback happened to be a man who allegedly abuses women then so be it.
But damn if it doesn’t take chutzpah to go on about character and the NFL’s moral standing after you draft an alleged rapist and call him the future of your team.
Winston was never charged for allegedly raping Erica Kinsman in December 2012, but the case feels far from settled. State attorney Willie Meggs said that the Tallahassee Police Department “missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do” in its investigation, and that the outcome may have been different had the police “done some things earlier correctly.”
Meggs also told Fox Sports that he believed that “somebody had gotten [Winston's] reports to his defense attorney, because he had already talked to our witnesses” and thought that, in hindsight, he maybe should have obtained a search warrant to search the office of Winston's attorney because “he knew more about the so-called investigation than we did.”
And records obtained by the New York Times show that Florida State’s athletic department knew about the alleged rape as early as January 2013 when an assistant athletic director called the police to “inquire” about it, but didn’t talk to Winston until a full year later -- after football season ended. The Seminoles took the national championship in January 2014. Only then did the school ask Winston to talk about the case. He declined. In fact, Winston has never spoken to police or university officials about the alleged rape.
The civil suit filed by Kinsman also revealed new details about the case, including information about Ronald Darby, one of the men present that night. Darby is alleged to have told Winston that Kinsman was telling him to "stop," and the civil suit includes a remorseful Facebook message Darby posted after the incident, saying he felt “the worst almost I felt in my life.” The suit also alleges that another man present, Chris Casher, filmed part of the assault but, because police did not interview him until 11 months after the incident, the video was deleted and the phone discarded.
The lack of charges in the case is a weak vindication, but you wouldn't think that based on the praise being heaped on Winston by his new employers. "I know a lot of things have been said about him. He's made some mistakes that young people make from time to time when they're young," said Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. "Once you get to know him, I just really believe in him. I trust my instincts on people to know who we're getting."
Mistakes. Youthful indiscretion. Boys will be boys. Just get to know the real guy. Character. Instincts. These are the euphemisms and dodges that will dictate how the Bucs talk about the alleged rape, until they stop talking about it all together. That day will come sooner than later. Because Winston isn't the first man with an alleged record of abusing women to be embraced by the NFL, and he won't be the last.
Ray Rice is on his own redemption tour, and may soon find another home in the league. Greg Hardy, who was recruited by the Dallas Cowboys after being dropped by the Carolina Panthers for assaulting and choking a woman, was benched for 10 games but will play again.
But in the meantime, the league will insist that its commitment to making violence against women "unacceptable" is unwavering. Because Licht and Lovie took the allegations "very seriously." Because Roger Goodell firmly believes that "domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances." Exceptions apply, of course.
Before Jameis Winston became the NFL's No. 1 draft pick, he was a Heisman Trophy winner with a cush Nike contract. He is projected to earn nearly $23 million in his rookie contract. He is being praised as the moral center of his new team. He has the force of a billion-dollar industry protecting him as long as he can perform on the field. He is free to joke about crab legs and smile for the cameras while the NFL machine cleanses his record. He will keep moving forward while the troubling details of everything that came before recede further into the background.
Remember his name the next time someone tells you that rape allegations ruin men’s lives.