There he stood; At a hulking 6’4” and 230 pounds, Jameis Winston, the freshman stand-out and now Heisman-winning quarterback leading top-ranked FSU into the BCS National Championship game. Clasped between his fingers and soon thrust to the sky was the most coveted bronze mold in the history of collegiate sports, the Heisman trophy, and it was amid a cacophony of cheers and shutter closures that he stood—award in grasp—baring his teeth in a triumphant smile. Jameis Winston was voted 2013’s most outstanding college football player in the country, yet to his misfortune, such an accolade did not come without subscript. On the night of December 14th, Jameis Winston forever enshrined himself in NCAA football history, yet, still, the night was marked by an inescapable air of discomfort. Perhaps, never before has college football witnessed its most esteemed award in the hands of a man so simultaneously celebrated and decried. This, of course, is because almost a year prior to the day, Jameis Winston was accused of rape, and in the weeks preceding his acceptance of the Heisman award, mutterings of this accusation reared themselves yet again. The result of these mutterings has been a predictable media frenzy, yet this frenzy, the rape accusations, the resulting public perceptions, and the nature in which such a damning story broke in unison with Winston’s rise to prominence may speak to the politics of sport and the racial coding evident even in an American pastime.
According to various police reports from 2012, the accuser in the Jameis Winston rape allegation claimed she’d met the then-18-year old quarterback in a local nightclub in the early hours of December 7th. What happened subsequently is of great mystery, both to the now-entranced public but, more importantly, to the accuser, as well. In one report, the accuser claimed to have been clubbed over the head to unconsciousness, after which she awoke in Jameis Winston’s bed and lay victimized by his sexual assault. Another report from the accuser completely omitted the blow to the head. And although Winston’s bodily fluid was found in the accuser’s underwear, a number of inconsistencies in her reports ultimately led Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs to conclude Winston could not be charged with rape. FSU’s star then proceeded onward and into Heisman history. To be clear, no charges were filed against Winston then just as no charges are filed against him now, and so the only difference is seemingly that many more people are now aware of an accusation from which nothing resulted.
It is unlikely any word in the English lexicon carries such a burden as the word “rape”. So harsh is it to the ear and so telling is it of one’s character that rapists are often positioned beneath cold-blooded murderers within the perceived moral hierarchy of the American prison system. Jameis Winston, then, will be henceforth tasked with sloughing such a vile subscript from his name—a subscript, mind you, which evidence suggests he doesn’t deserve. Furthermore, the eagerness with which many in the media and several in the broader public sought to incriminate Jameis Winston for rape unavoidably hearkens back to a time during which African American men were depicted as brutish voyeurs with insatiable sexual appetites.
ESPN contributor and L.A. Times writer Bill Plaschke wrote that Winston was “certainly ready to party” after learning he’d not face rape charges, seemingly implying that Winston had somehow used his coy to elude justice.
Jameis Winston was not acquitted of a crime and he did not “beat a case”. Flatly, he was never charged with the dastardly crime of which he has been accused. Suggestions otherwise—that he is a rapist, that his is a violator, and the numerous others insisting that his victory somehow degrades the Heisman award—may neuter and victimize the man in fashion similar to the heinous crime some believe, with vehemence, he committed.