The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers have quite an issue on their hands. Tampa Bay’s multi-millionaire quarterback, Jameis Winston is set to be suspended for the first three games of the upcoming NFL season. Winston has been accused of inappropriately touching an Uber driver back in 2016. This isn’t the first time he’s been accused of sexual assault. Back in 2013, while at Florida State, Winston was accused of raping a fellow student. There was an accompanying media firestorm. While Jameis Winson isn’t the only professional athlete or collegiate athlete to face these accusations, with him once again getting a second chance, it’s beyond time to look at why athletes seem to get a pass when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault.
In light of the Florida state prosecutor declining to pursue a case against Florida State University’s star quarterback, Jameis Winston, and the circus that was made of the ensuing press conferences, it’s time to evaluate where we, as Americans and sports fans, are in regards to sexual assault and rape. Thankfully, we’re past the time where every crime against women was just written off as “boys will be boys.” With all societal changes, however, we are nowhere near where we need to be, not when there are so many sexual assaults that go unreported (most estimates state around 60%). In a civilized society, that is wholly unacceptable. And while this is a larger societal issue, the Winston case, as well as similar cases involving stars Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger, make this a sports issue worth examining.
If you want to know why so many women don’t report sexual assaults, look at the press conference that Florida state attorney Will Meggs put on to announce the results of the investigation. It was unprofessional. It was unseemly. The laid-back, jovial nature of the proceedings defied the weight of the charges being discussed. Sexual assault and rape aren’t funny. Even when dismissing and not pursuing charges against the accused, it still is not a laughing matter. While some of his colleagues have come to Mr. Meggs’ defense, his behavior and the tone of the press conference were inexcusable. And Winston’s attorney, Tim Jansen, didn’t add anything to the story by holding his press conference on FSU’s campus with garnet and gold clad students as his backdrop. It was a farce and everyone, from the accuser, to Jameis Winston, deserved better.
Beyond the Winston case, there are others such as what occurred in Steubenville and Maryville. All cases involving star athletes accused of vicious crimes where the local authorities at best, boggled their investigations, and at worst, covered up crimes in a concerted effort to sweep them under the rug. But why? Why would law enforcement, prosecutors, and other authorities put their careers on the line with their actions?
The answer: We want them to.
There are games to win. There are championships to claim. That’s the reason Lawrence Phillips wasn’t kicked out of Nebraska. That’s the reason we tolerate things from our athletes that we don’t tolerate from people that can run really fast or jump really high. We all want to win. And sure, it makes for good trash talking when a rival player is accused of something, but when it’s one of our guys, we circle the wagons and attack the accuser without weighing any of the facts. And people like Mr. Meggs will continue to be comfortable enough to chuckle and guffaw his way through a press conference regarding sexual assault.
Shamefully, I used to be one of those guys that would often ask, “Why would a woman go to a guy’s hotel room at 3 a.m.?” or “What did she think was going to happen by drinking with so-and-so?” As this article writer so eloquently put it, “the penalty for stupidity is not rape.” I’m ashamed to admit out loud that I didn’t get sober to this idea until I had daughters of my own. If, heaven forbid, something were to happen to either one of them, I would want them to feel like they could have their day in court, that their voices mattered, that they will be heard. Victims of sexual assault should never be afraid to come forward and feel that they must remain silent. Victims of sexual assault are our daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends. Way more important than that, they’re humans, they have their own agency and they deserve better.
Civilized society only works if the rule of law is applied to everyone equally, every time. The role of the prosecutor is not to decide what cases are winnable; the prosecutor is there to be an advocate and seek out justice for both the accused and the accuser. The police are there to gather evidence and investigate crimes, not offer advice to the accuser about the probability of conviction (as was alleged in the Jameis Winston case). And we, as a society must demand that those in positions of authority are not influenced by how far the accused can throw a ball or how high he can jump. Justice needs to be blind. And everyone can see that.