Tuesday, May 05, 2015

What Winston's drafting means

Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston was the first pick in this year's NFL draft held last week. He won't have to go very far; as expected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got him (they had the first pick).

I have seen a few commentaries on Winston's "off-field" troubles, though generally felt that the mainstream sport media talked around what they were calling "character issues" in the weeks leading up to last night's announcement. What utterly shocked me was a regional sports show in which the commentator noted that some of Winston's teammates, including roommate Ronald Darby, who also declared for the draft this year, might cause some teams to pause because of their off-field issues. There were no specifics provided (admittedly I did not linger on the channel so perhaps I missed them.) But I do know that Darby was in the cab with Erica Kinsman, Winston, and their third roommate. He was in the apartment while Winston assaulted her. According to Kinsman's accounts of the night one of the two roommates came into the bedroom and told Winston that he should stop. Darby was called into front of the school judicial board long before Winston. He was cleared of wrongdoing while roommate Chris Casher, was punished for taking video of the encounter. (It was deleted.) Darby may have other incidents in addition to being associated with this night (though it seems people care little about it); the point is that the commentator mentioned off-field actions as a potential deterrent to his selections by certain teams.

Despite the troubles Winston has gotten into during his brief time at FSU, however, and the pending civil lawsuit against him by Kinsman, his draft stock never fell. Let us recall a year ago when Michael Sam's draft stock plummeted after he announced he was gay. (See Cyd Zeigler's take on this one year later.)  Because in the NFL hierarchy being gay is a bigger distraction than being sued for assault.

Let's also recall Notre Dame alum, Manti Te'o who was drafted two years ago. He was picked in the second round but his stock fell too after a never-quite-explained story emerged about a dead girlfriend whom he had never met and, it turns out, never existed. This situation was described as a "character issue" and one that teams might have some issues with. Some of us thought teams were reading it as Te'o trying to cover his homosexuality. This has never been confirmed, but it certainly was a rumor and rumors abound at draft time and they affect how teams feel about these "off-field issues."

So non-normative sexuality related off-field issues = falling stock. Heterosexual sexual assault (and evidence of other misogynistic practices) = first round pick. The organizational memory of the NFL seems to be very short. I fear that Winston will remind them very soon of the need to more deeply address the culture of misogyny and homophobia in the organization.

And a final note on that deleted picture of Winston celebrating his first round pick (at home allegedly so he could be with his family) with a plate of crab legs. I know the context; the crabs were a gift from Deadliest Catch star Keith Colburn. Fine, eat and enjoy the crabs. Don't post a picture to social media with them though. And don't be surprised when there is negative reaction by both your new employer (the Bucs deny pressuring Winston to remove the photo, however) and the public. The crabs are a symbol: of ignorance, entitlement, and arrogance. Those all seem like pretty big character issues to me.