By Jason Keidel
Sports often remind us that success imbues a man with unwarranted virtue.
In New York City, we watched a swath of stars in the '80s, from Doc Gooden to Darryl Strawberry to Lawrence Taylor, wildly talented but tormented men whom we worshiped because they were so dominant on the field, largely unaware of their emotional and legal detours off the field.
Only once they stop winning do we look at their imperfections.
Max Schmeling was Hitler's boy when he knocked out Joe Louis, paraded around like a Caesar. Yet when he lost the rematch, Schmeling found himself jumping out of planes for the German Air Force. The hypocrisy is probably as old as mankind.
Even if you're a teen, an amateur with a dubious record, that's okay, too. As long as you win the Heisman Trophy and a national championship. Jameis Winston, Florida State's gifted quarterback with myriad stars on his young lapels, is the latest entrant in sports' growing duplicity.
The New York Times ran a thorough and thoroughly damning piece on the process that led to charges being dropped in Winston's sexual assault case a few months ago.
The Times flipped over every rock in the dreadful, fact-finding process of the Tallahassee Police Department. The Times went so deep into the no-look culture of police and prized recruits that it would make anyone wonder if winning not only conceals character flaws, but also crimes.
Some of the highlights...
The cops didn't try to secure the video one of Winston's friends made of the sexual encounter.
The cops didn't get DNA from Winston despite his status as primary suspect.
The cops didn't get video from the bar where the woman was picked up by Winston's comrade.
The officer in charge of the case called Winston to discuss the matter. Winston blew him off, saying he was on his way to baseball practice, and would get back to him, and the cop had no problem with it. Don't cops abhor phones? Don't they believe in a more direct approach to interviewing a suspect?
The officer in charge of the case did security work on the side for the Seminole Boosters, the primary financier of Florida State athletics.
Then there were the dual press conferences held in Tallahassee once State Attorney William Meggs announced he would not pursue the case.
The one held by Mr. Meggs was somewhat professional, but a bit too informal and jovial for many of us. The second presser, held by Winston's lawyer, Tim Jansen, was appalling. Jansen was flanked by flag-bearing frat boys with foam fingers and smiles and laughter and a total disregard for the solemn nature of the charges, no matter the result.
A woman says she was raped. No matter the veracity of her claims or the guilt of the accused, it's a somber situation. The entire culture - the laughing and the pom poms and the glibness of the people overseeing the whole thing - is quite disquieting.
None of this means Jameis Winston is guilty. But a case of this severity deserves every effort from those sworn to protect the citizens they serve, from the Tallahassee Police Department to Florida State University. FSU stopped talking to the Times once the questioning got too uncomfortable, and the TPD didn't make the officer who investigated the case, Chris Angulo, available for interviews.
Are we plunging down the moral compass? Or has it always been this way? Maybe technology and social media is bringing a bigger lens to the problem. Between Penn State and Donald Sterling and the increasing number of women afraid to report rapes on college campuses, sports are looking like the Wild West.
But Winston is, if nothing else, a bonehead. We just learned that he recently strolled out of a supermarket with $32 worth of crab legs. Crab legs. Winston says he forgot to pay. Have you ever forgotten to pay? Many things can be said about Winston, but dumb isn't one of them. You don't lead a football team to the national title as a freshman if you're lacking brain cells.
This is the fourth spot on Winston's blotter. Three of his possible transgressions are somewhat innocuous, from shooting out windows with a BB gun to stealing soda from Burger King to his crab legs crusade.
But it's still a troubling pattern. If anything, it italicizes a rampant sense of entitlement. NFL evaluators are already saying Winston is free-falling down the first round of next year's draft.
Sports, like news, is local, and fans are provincial and protective. If you're a devotee of Florida State football, anyone who questions Winston is instantly branded a hater, a moron, or a foreigner who doesn't really grasp the native dynamic.
But the same stuff happens all over America. Winston is just the latest case of a pampered, athletic savant whose flaws are cloaked by his deeds on gameday. People like Winston are corporeal gold mines for schools, teams, and communities.
Financial experts estimated Johnny Manziel made more than $30 million for Texas A&M. Maybe Winston does the same for FSU and their acolytes. So you can see the logic, even if it's shameful, when the police stutter when mentioning Winston's name in any criminal context.
Of course, another Heisman or another national title, and maybe we forget what Winston is. Or isn't.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there's a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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