Jameis Winston has been officially suspended by the NFL for three games. His ban comes on the heels of a sexual assault claim made against him by a female uber driver. In 2016, she alleged that Winston groped her while she was driving him in Arizona. This is not the first time that the star QB has been accused of sexual assault. It is, however, the first time that he’s been held accountable and punished. In 2012, a Florida State student accused the Seminoles signal caller of raping her. The University “investigated” her claims. No charges were ever brought against him, and he remained a starter. In fact, the only time that Winston was reprimanded during his career was two years later when he was suspended for one game. One single game. Why? He cursed in public. Apparently cursing in public is more cause for punishment than assaulting a fellow student.
Unfortunately, instances like this are pretty common in big time college programs. Football players like Winston are valuable assets to the team and to the university. Both financially and sportingly. In cases where accusations are levelled, the first thing the university will do is bring in its own high powered and well payed lawyers. Then, along with local police, they’ll conduct an investigation. In Winston’s case, the university felt that their code of behaviour had not been broken, and thus he went unscathed. It is also likely that his accuser faced huge pressure from the university to back down and drop her claims. Maybe she was threatened. By failing to punish Winston, they set a precedent: that it’s okay to do this to women and get away with it. And now he’s done it again. Only this time he’s a professional football player, employed by the NFL. And the NFL had no choice but to suspend him. Their image is already so tarnished that to not punish him would have caused uproar on a Ray Rice level. Remember him? He was caught on tape KO’ing his fiancee and now he’s unemployed. And rightfully so.
Dede Westbrook is another, if not as high profile, example of talented and valuable players getting away with it. In 2012 before he became and Oaklahome State Cowboy, Westbrook was twice accused by his ex girlfriend of assault and battery. These are felony charges. But did face charges? Of course not. His accuser refused to cooperate with the investigators, likely under duress. OSU claimed to have had no idea about his past, but who doesn’t do a background check? The likelihood is that they wanted to recruit him, and so were the ones pulling the strings to have him avoid charges.
Maybe the NFL’s punishment of a high profile player will make younger college players stop and think before they act. Maybe this is wishful thinking because as long as Universities enable football players and refuse to hold them accountable, the toxic cycle will remain unbroken.