The state of Florida has decided not to file any charges against Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston. From a football perspective, this means Florida State won’t have to worry about not having its starting quarterback for Saturday’s ACC Championship Game. However, this story is about more than college football. It’s yet another referendum on sport and society, as well as the life of a young man.
In the United States’ legal system, the innocence of all those accused of breaking the law is presumed. The state isn’t supposed to bring a person to trial unless sufficient evidence to convict them is present and even then, the burden is still on the state to convince a jury of the person’s guilt.
Then there is the court of public opinion, the millions of individuals with varying levels of educations and personal biases, armed with Twitter accounts and circles of influence. The damage that the “jury” in this court can do is almost as bad as a conviction of a felony. At the same time, finding favor in this court can raise a young man to the heights of the tallest pedestal in our society. Now that the legal system is done with Winston, he will have his day in this court.
Opinions include Winston being guilty and the Florida State community using its power to cover up the crime and protect him because of his significance to the football program and the money he brings in. If you consider the report of the woman’s parents to be fact, and that she was told to drop the charges or else life would be made miserable for her, then this is a believable story.
Another possibility in the conversation is that the encounter between Winston and the woman was consensual. The woman is the real villain in the story, trying to take advantage of Winston’s celebrity to get something for herself. Winston made a bad decision in associating with this woman and has become the victim of her greed.
It’d also be naive to think that Winston’s race won’t play a part in this decision, for better or for worse. The effects of the decision that the court of public opinion makes about Winston are far-reaching. If Winston is deemed a victim of circumstance, then the path for him to be a high draft pick in the NFL and at least have a chance at a long career while making millions of dollars is his for the taking.
If public opinion decides that he is a criminal that got off from being charged because of his celebrity status, however, then a NFL franchise may be hesitant to draft him high because of the risk of public backlash.
The fate of a young man is about to decided and right now, there isn’t a lot that he can do but just wait and see.