Sunday, September 21, 2014

Intercollegiate football <--> NFL: The case of Jameis Winston

I have been meaning to write about the re-investigation by Florida State University into the sexual assault allegedly committed by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
The initial investigation into the charges of sexual assault, which is required by Title IX, was done more than a year after the assault for a variety of reasons, according to FSU which include lack of compliance by the accused and the then-ongoing investigation by Tallahassee law enforcement which did not result in enough evidence, according to the state attorney's office. (Perhaps, in part, because there was a never statement by Winston.)
The re-investigation does not, of course, ameliorate the Title IX violations. It should have occurred within 60 days of the reported assault.
But lawyers for the victim (who is no longer at the school) say they are pleased with FSU's current investigation. Though what results and when (after the post-season?) remains to be seen.
So all this has been going on during the late summer and into the start of the academic year.
And then this past week students and bystanders report that Jameis Winston was standing on a table in the student union yelling something obscene about women. The university investigates and decides, on Wednesday, to suspend him for the first half of their game against ACC rival Clemson. Winston gives a press conference and apologizes for his actions and seemingly to the FSU community--but not to women, curiously. He talks about overcoming adversity---as it relates to being a football team playing without its star player.
And then late Friday, FSU announces that after the "continuing investigation"* into the incident the powers-that-be have decided Winston should sit the entire game. The reasons for this revision of the punishment were never clearly explained. There was some speculation that Winston's account of the event did not coincide with that of bystanders.
I want to discuss Winston in light of his current position as an intercollegiate athlete who has been accused of sexual assault and as a future NFLer. (It is presumed that FSU is just trying to keep Winston eligible for this season and that he will enter the draft.)
The campus sexual assault movement has raised the issue of athletes committing sexual assaults and how these assaults are being addressed by schools (i.e., handled by athletic departments, athletes transferred to new and willing schools).
This past week, as Erin wrote about, the White House added to the conversation by creating a public awareness campaign about campus sexual assault. Part of the goal is to make this a campus community issue and not one that exists solely between victim and perpetrator (and those adjudicating and investigating). Whatever its faults, the purpose is to change campus climates.
FSU's handling of Winston's latest "bad decision" (Coach Jimbo Fisher) fails to do this. And Winston's own understanding of what he did and how he handled it also reflects the failure of the institution to convey (assuming that it actually wants to) that it takes these issues seriously.
Winston dressed for the game and went out in warm-up and took snaps. Apparently there had been some miscommunication, because Fisher sent Winston to the locker room and he came out with just his shirt and sweatpants and a baseball cap. How did Winston not get the message that his punishment would be enacted? Did he think that when things started going badly (as they did in the first half) that someone from on high would come down and say "ok, that's enough. Go in there and be the hero." Some media folks had suggested that the original half game suspension was actually setting Winston up for hero status.
What was also troubling, especially in light of the campaign for community responsibility, was the way Jimbo Fisher talked about the punishment. In the pre-game interview he refused to talk about it all saying that it was something they were handling.
This was a reiteration of his earlier statements made after the announcement of the half-game suspension and critiques that it was too light:
"We're in charge. It's our team. That's our thought."
That is not a statement that suggests greater concern for the sexually hostile climate that exists at FSU.
Switching attention to the organization Winston will likely become a part of: the NFL. I don't think anyone needs a refresher on the image problems that organization is facing. The question is, what will the NFL do with Jameis Winston? Which team will take him on? There have been some rumblings about whether Winston has hurt his future professional prospects (but mostly from the perspective of endorsements, not whether he will have a job as a football player). But Winston will enter the draft after the close of what is turning into a highly controversial season for the NFL and after the NFL releases its report on violence against women (expected by the Super Bowl).
The culture of privilege and the institutional ignorance about violence against women do not just emerge when athletes enter professional sports. They are cultivated in intercollegiate sports. Winston is just the current example; he is not the first, but how his story and future unfolds will be an indicator of how serious both college and professional football are about challenging their own damaging cultures.

* These are the moments that further our cynicism about internal investigations.