Letter to Jameis Winston

Dear Jameis,

I know this is one letter you won’t read, especially since it comes from an FSU fan from Canada. As I write this letter, you have been cleared of misconduct charges in your code-of-conduct hearing at Florida State, and you get to focus on the upcoming Rose Bowl against Oregon. Look at this letter as my way to cope with feelings that I suspect many FSU fans experienced when it comes to you, although they probably would have preferred losing that dumpster fire of a game against Florida rather than admit to it.

See, I watched the 2013 season, and by extension, you, and I loved every moment of it. I loved your 24-of-26 game against Pitt, I loved the big comeback to win the National Championship against an Auburn team that outplayed us for most of the game. But more importantly, I loved that destruction of Clemson in Clemson, and I adored your pregame speech.

I’m sitting there going, “And this is a freshman? Oh, this is going to be fun!” On the field, you were, and have been since then, one of the purest incarnations of leadership and poise I’ve ever seen. And for the first time in a long time, such an incarnation was wearing an FSU uniform. To make the moment even more glorious for me, it came against Clemson, a team I’m fairly sure I despise more than most Noles’ fans. Having to watch this team steal top Florida prospects from us, and then not coach them for four years before they bomb in the NFL is painful. Especially considering that, during Bobby Bowden’s final few years, they beat us pretty regularly.

You have to understand just how desperate we were, as a fanbase, for the arrival of someone like you. We had to endure a long global decline of the program, after Weinke and Warrick’s National Champions, that wasn’t completely erased until you arrived. Though Christian Ponder pulled the program out of the ground and EJ Manuel improved it even more, we could feel it getting better, but we knew we weren’t there yet. And in the meantime, we had to deal with a whole bunch of shit we never had to worry about before. Picture having to ask yourself whether we were going to take one up the chin from powerhouses like Virginia, Wake Forest or Boston College. Imagine having to endure two last-gasp game-winning drives in three years from Russell Wilson’s NC State. But worst of all, think about just how excruciating it was to hear everybody gloat about how amazing those insufferable, gag-inspiring, self-righteous Tebow Gators were.

You allowed us to move on from this dark period as a fan base. You symbolized our return to prominence. Non-sports fans can’t understand just how amazing that feels to us actual fans who usually take this stuff too seriously. 2013 was like a dream, and you were the face of that dream.

So the rape accusations? Man…

In the grand scheme of things, I’m not really concerned about you stealing a bunch of crab legs, though which voice in your head told you this was a good idea is completely beyond me. On its own, it could be dismissed as a youthful error in judgement, And I care even less about the whole “F*** her right in the p****!” incident, which is really quite juvenile, but on the face of it, it’s a mere facepalm moment. It sure wouldn’t have gone down, in any case, as your proudest moment as an ambassador of the program, but the only reason why it’s not seen as almost harmless is because a) it made your lapses in judgement look like the rule and not the exception and b) it happened in the context of rape accusations, giving the story a darkly ironic feel.

You see, Jameis, what I’ve done so far is what we journalists call burying the lede. I did it mostly to establish the context of my anger towards you. I say this because you have put yourself in a position where football should take a backseat to the damage you’re accused of having caused. Stealing crab legs? I can call it an error in judgement. Yelling an obscenity in a public place? Ibid. But if you did rape that girl? That’s not just an error in judgement. Aside from flat-out murder, it’s not a stretch to say it’s the most reprehensible thing one can do to a fellow human being.

And what it looks like from the outside, Jameis, is that you were protected from the consequences of your actions simply because you’re a great football player. Now, the judge’s ruling says you are innocent. However, the stats suggest you did it. Deadspin’s Daniel Roberts calculated that the odds of someone being falsely accused of rape vary between 50,000 and 200,000 to one, and that’s accounting for the fact that 68% of rapes in the United States go unreported. In other words, to say the stats suggest you did it is a strong euphemism. They scream it. Emphatically.

I must reiterate that none of this constitutes actual proof in your individual case. The average person can be forgiven, however, for looking at those stats, along with the interests of the people involved, and coming to the conclusion that two plus two equals four. The ‘Noles are what the otherwise banal city of Tallahassee has for entertainment. Your head coach, Jimbo Fisher, is now the highest-paid public sector employee in the state of Florida in no small part because of you. A successful Seminoles football team is a tremendous source of revenue for Florida State University.

As for you, an immensely lucrative NFL career awaits. Yeah, I know, you’re in for a brutally exhausting interview process at the combine. Teams are going to fire a lot of questions about every transgression you’ve committed, and that doesn’t even include the rape accusations. Some wise-ass coach might even shout “RAPIST WINSTON!” as you enter the room. Some teams will take you off their draft board altogether. But not all of them. And the teams that need a quarterback have very few options at the position in the 2015 draft. Marcus Mariota? He’s likely going first overall, but I can promise you that some, if not all, teams who figure to have a chance to draft him, are going to take a long look at you because you’ve played in a pro-style offence. Consider the atrocious year it’s been for mobile, former spread/option quarterbacks in the NFL. Kaepernick, Cam, RG3, all these guys are going to make teams really nervous about taking Mariota, or any spread/option product. Add that to the fact that the best pro-style quarterback in the draft after you is Michigan State’s Connor Cook (at best a slightly better version of Kirk Cousins), plus that you now have next to zero chance of going to jail, and it’s easy to see how your stock is bound to climb. Teams’ll just bring themselves to consider you and say things such as, “Well… he wasn’t actually convicted of anything. In fact, he was never criminally charged. Plus, he’s a great leader, and the skills are there.” Next thing you know, you’ll be a first-round pick in spite of all this chaos.

All this figures to happen despite the fact that the investigation into your accuser’s claim was so obviously botched that, again, anyone trying to connect the dots can easily come to the conclusion that the botch job was intentional and done solely to protect your team, your school and you. Between the systemic dismissive treatment of rape victims when they do come forward and your importance to the livelihood of many successful figures at FSU, one is on safe ground when saying that you, your head coach, your athletic director and Florida State University as whole, have millions of reasons to lie about what happened while your accuser has next to none.

You can claim your innocence. Your lawyer can come out and say this is the worst attack job in the history of amateur sports. Jimbo Fisher can back you up as unconditionally as he has. But of course all those things will happen. Meanwhile, the mishandled investigation, which, obviously, produced insufficient evidence to warrant any criminal charges, seems far too convenient. It makes you, your lawyer, and Coach Fisher come across as disingenuous. It discredits any FSU fan who attempts to defend you, no matter how valid their arguments might be in theory.

Under no circumstance does the legal system require you to prove your innocence, and I cannot per se hold it against you that you haven’t. But there is a giant difference between a lack of evidence in a properly-conducted investigation and a so-called lack of evidence in an investigation with enough procedural irregularities to make it unbelievable even if you tried to make a crime-thriller movie about it. You can say the investigation produced no evidence of wrongdoing on your part but, given its flaws, you can’t expect people to take it seriously.

In the meantime, I grit my teeth thinking that your situation has made the team so unlikable that everybody keeps fishing for reasons to knock us out of playoff contention. We started the season at number 1, and were dropped as low as number 4. Do we get dropped to 4 without this rape accusations fiasco? I have my doubts. Coach Fisher has spent the year spewing a narrative along the lines of, “our guys use the nation’s hatred to fuel their focus and togertherness.” Fuel their focus? You must joking! You have played like anything but a focused team. You guys are way too talented to have to squeeze out victories in extremis, wrestling-heel style, against the OK-at-best ACC competition you faced this year.

I hate feeling at least a bit unclean at the idea that I might be supporting a (more) morally bankrupt program (than all the others) when I read take-down pieces like this one. Drew Magary can be a blowhard, and he’s being one here, but it becomes harder to dismiss the substance of his argument when I read this from a writer I respect and can’t bring myself to disagree with much of what he says. Here’s what I’ll say in defence-ish of your statement: we should not minimize the gravity of a false rape accusation just to emphasize the gravity of an actual rape, and it seems to me several journalists are guilty of this. But even then, I kinda get their point. You were wrong, morally at least, to pretend that rape and false rape accusations are equivalent in legal or moral terms. They are not.

I’ll never forget 2013, but I find myself wishing you’ll declare for the upcoming NFL Draft not because I don’t like you, not because I think we’d be better on the field without you (an idea so idiotic it should cause anyone to question the sanity of the person who utters it), but because things have reached the point where I don’t want you to be FSU’s problem anymore. But all these admittedly selfish footballing preoccupations are irrelevant compared to the more important one: if you did do it, and the undeniable fishiness of the investigation forces me to keep asking myself the question, then there is a young lady out there suffering not only from the traumatic experience of the rape itself, but from the inevitable slut-shaming she’s probably been facing since she filed the accusation. And this would be both a tragedy and a scandal. So is the fact that she would have faced all of it anyway, from the less reputable FSU fans, even if you HAD been found guilty. This is what you have forced us, as fans of both you and of the Florida State Seminoles, to square our morals with.

So go on and prepare for the Rose Bowl. You’re going to need all the preparation you can squeeze into whatever time you have left before the game. Hell, if you and the team play as you have all year, you’re getting blown out by at least 30 points against this steamroller of an Oregon offence.

Not that this was ever the point.

Regards,

AT

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