I find it wholly appropriate that I’m writing about Winston two years to the night that a FSU freshman accused the quarterback of rape, because the man’s off-field behavior requires analysis within the context of evaluating his NFL prospects.
I could pretend to be objective about Winston, but I won’t. His off-field behavior disturbs me. I believe his celebrity helped him escape a true investigation into a rape allegation. Winston’s case gets me thinking about other stars whose off-field behaviors I don’t like thinking about because I just want to enjoy watching them on Sunday.
Still, Winston–and the role of character in talent evaluation–requires coverage. You can find my on-field analysis of Winston at Football Outsiders. It doesn’t broach the topic of the Heisman Trophy Winner’s off-field behavior.
I saved that discussion for here. Truth be told, I wish I could completely ignore the topic of character, but I can’t.
I’m sure the NFL feels the same way–year after year after year. You see, I may be telling you that I’m not objective about Winston to get your attention, but what I’m really saying is that no one can be objective about judging a player’s character, and it’s a disheartening part of evaluating football talent.
I don’t have to make character a considerable factor in my publication’s pre-draft rankings. I rarely see enough pertinent information to make a judgment call. It provides me the unintentional luxury to write solely about a player’s talent. However, it doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to the huge impact character holds in this arena of talent evaluation.
There are instances where too much of the off-field story is available for public consumption. If you’re going to evaluate the prospect you must address what’s out there. I did this with Isaiah Crowell last December, Even so, I took the risk to make Crowell my top running back prospect pre-draft and based it solely on talent–a luxury my contemporaries working for the NFL lack.
On the field, Winston is athletic, accurate, and poised. I’ve shared clips at Football Outsiders that illustrate his feel for the position that sets him apart from many a college passer. There are subtleties to his game that make impressive building blocks for a good professional career.
Off the field, FOX Sports has a timeline of more than a half-dozen off-field incidents involving Winston. The list includes behavior easily characterized as boneheaded, immature, spoiled, entitled, corrupt, and allegedly violent and criminal.
Winston is the embodiment of the best and worst of college football. Say what you will about the majority of football players who inspire both on and off the field: They don’t want to be associated with the perception that college football is above the law any more than law-abiding, critical-thinking, well-trained police officers want to be associated with the perception of corruption, racism, and criminal behavior in law enforcement.
That said, if you think the entity of big-time college football isn’t all too often an enabler of bad behavior among students, coaches, administrators, and alumni then you’re blind, deaf, stoned, or profiting from the operation. It’s a system that’s too greedy to determine a champion without some arbitrary poll that isn’t much different from its reviled BCS predecessor.
A system that arguably exploits its athletes, erects McTaj Mahals posing as athletic department buildings funded with resources that would be better allocated elsewhere, and worst of all, a sport that, beyond the top 8 percent of college programs that are revenue generators , isn’t fiscally self-sustainable .
Those are just the leaves and flower of the weed. The root of the ugliness is the behavior that suggests college football is above the law: Annual reports of athletes and coaches behaving badly—often criminally—and getting away with it. Read these stories year after year and it gets easier to don the tinfoil hat and shout “conspiracy” while pointing at the support system of athletic staff, college administrators, alumni, and law enforcement.
Their actions—or notable inaction (and it goes way beyond crimes committed by athletes on their campuses)—inspire whispers of a shadow kingdom acting in self-preservation, which unintentionally enables this behavior in certain players who might be predisposed to thinking they are above reproach. Penn State hasn’t receded that far into our memories already, has it?
Read the New York Times investigative piece by Walt Bogdanovich about the alleged rape and it’s easy to think where there’s smoke there’s fire. It all sounds straight out of Hollywood. It’s not far from it–big-time football is as much entertainment as sport and it transforms players into celebrities.
Fame has its merits, but celebrity is also an illness that can magnify the worst parts of a personality. It’s why Bill Cosby and Jameis Winston engender similar ambivalence right about now.
To think that my parents’ generation was up in arms about Lisa Bonet performing in a graphic sex scene with Mickey Rourke in the movie Angel Heart. Bonet getting down in a movie somehow violated the public image of the Cosby Show. Looking back on it, the uproar was a lot like calling the fire department on a neighbor who is burning leaves in his front yard, but willfully ignoring the man in a ski mask down the street spraying a house with gasoline from a fuel tanker.
I’m not objective about Winston because the nature of the alleged crime is heinous and the performance of the preliminary investigation appears negligent. I emphasize alleged crime, because he has never legally been charged with rape.
Considering there is a pervasive narrative of college campuses/towns underreporting rape, I’m predisposed to believe that Winston raped this woman based on the Times story above.
I can’t tell you how much I dislike that I feel this way, but I try to be as transparent as possible about my evaluation process. I’m disclosing how I feel because I fully realize there’s a chance that I could be incorrectly judging Winston (and Cosby) in the court of public opinion–something that my contemporaries on NFL teams have the luxury of doing behind closed doors.
The fact that there are authorities in law enforcement that believe the Tallahassee authorities were negligent in their duties to deliver a proper investigation of Winston means that the nature of this alleged crime calls his leadership into question.
Winston is too good on the field not to study, and he displays strong leadership potential in games, but the games are only a fraction of what leadership involves. There’s managing a team in practice, the locker room, the media, and the way he behaves in the community.
As I’ll mention soon, not all of these areas require perfect leadership, but the more strain a quarterback’s behavior puts in any of these areas, the more likely there will be breakdowns on the field. Look at Robert Griffin’s current woes or Johnny Manziel’s off-field issues and you get a hint as to why on-field leadership is only part of the equation.
What Winston might have done off the field is too disturbing not to factor into an overall evaluation of his value to an NFL organization. Evaluating the FSU quarterback this way troubles me because it’s one thing to be a part of team making an internal judgment call after a series of interviews, a workout, and a private investigation into a player’s life, but it’s another to do so with limited information.
However, you can’t separate Winston’s alleged behavior on and off the field once the genie is out of the bottle. I am not an NFL employee and I don’t have a dossier on Winston’s behavior, but if the New York Times investigative report predisposes me to conclude that Winston committed a violent crime against a woman and the local authorities swept it under the rug, how can I not conclude that Winston shouldn’t be on a team’s draft board if that’s what the information indicates?
At the same time, Winston is far from the only NFL prospect that will come along sporting both talent and a troubled past that could foretell a troubled future. Character is one of the thorniest issues of the pre-draft evaluation process. It’s often the reason why first-round talents aren’t drafted and the average fan is flabbergasted when they see that occasional prospect behave well enough to produce beyond his draft status.
If I had the amount of information that other teams will gather, it might be a different story and I could conclude that If I were on an NFL staff and the evidence led us to believe he didn’t commit rape, I’d be relieved. But if we learned enough to believe he displays this type of predatory behavior, I would not knowingly welcome it into my organization no matter how promising Winston is on the field.
And he is a promising young quarterback. Winston lacks picture-perfect, by-the-numbers technique as a passer, but he’s far more than an athletically inspired creator with a big-arm and no brain for the game. I’m impressed with his anticipation, patience, and urgency to generate production in his role.
If it weren’t for the possibility that I’d be recommending a player to assume the on-field leadership role of an organization who I suspect is a rapist, I’d otherwise be excited about his potential development. However, there’s a line one has to draw with character and I’m not saying my line is the best judgment.
I could have pretended I’m objective about my approach to Winston and you wouldn’t have known, especially with a positive on-field evaluation as the backdrop. However, it’s important to be transparent about having bias when you know you have one.
I don’t want to be a sanctimonious hypocrite about the role of character in prospect evaluation. I’ve hired people for jobs whose lifestyles or past mistakes left me pause, but they the law gave them an opportunity to move forward, so I did the same and they did good work.
But Winston’s alleged behaviors–and the behaviors (in some cases, still “alleged”) of Jeremy Hill, Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Peyton Manning–give me a chance to discuss that there are no concrete rules when it comes to whom you award second chances. Roger Goodell was accused of making arbitrary rulings on player behavior and it’s becoming clear that the NFL’s League Office made some major mistakes.
As critical as we are about Goodell and the league, I can empathize when I go through the mental exercise of deciding the behaviors that I’d be more inclined to give second chances–especially considering the players above. My judgments would vary according to the individual and the nature of the issue.
My line wouldn’t have been crossed with a sexual harassment situation like Brett Favre’s in New York. It’s distasteful, desperate behavior from a married man, but it is correctable behavior without a huge drain on the team to address.
I’d also support a player (with certain parameters implemented for the player and the organization) who is willing to seek counseling to develop healthier behavior based on incidents of drug usage, anger management, and specifically, some cases of domestic violence if he’s willing to get involved in the community and speak about his mistakes to help others learn.
However, this particular allegation of rape involving Winston and the flawed handling of the complaint by the local police are troublesome for me. Do you punish a player never charged with a crime worse than a player who has been convicted of one? But do you acquire a player whose behavior might fit a pattern that may lead him down a road of incidents that could embarrass your organization, cost him playing time, and hurt your team?
I don’t have the answers, but now that these questions are on the table you get a sense of the difficulty that some teams will have with Winston the prospect. For some teams it will be difficult to separate the tape from the person.
That tape is good enough to consider him, but not without a substantial commitment to see him through a development curve. It could require a major transformation in the young man’s personal life for your organization to earn a return on investment. This last sentence seems very cold, but it is the bottom-line, strategic thinking that an organization will need to adopt when considering Winston.
I’m impressed with Winston the football player. Aside from some coverage reading mistakes that are common with most NFL prospects, it’s clear that he plays within his physical skills and he knows how to adjust the play design to the real-life context of the game. He doesn’t play like he’s solving a math problem.
If teams are satisfied with what they’ve learned about Winston’s off-field behavior then he has the goods to develop into a starting NFL quarterback. With enough continuity embedded into Winston’s development, he could become the type of field general where the game is rarely too big for him.
However, based on the questionable nature of his off-field behavior, I fear that life might be way too big for him. There is far more potential for trouble waiting for Winston as a professional than what he can embrace at Tallahassee.
Of course, we might have feared the same things about Peyton Manning’s future behavior after he allegedly pulled down his shorts and sat on a student trainer’s head and face when he was a junior at Tennessee.
According to Jason McIntyre, the trainer reported the incident to the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Knoxville. Eventually, the trainer and the university reached a settlement and Manning has since violated the terms of the settlement twice—once costing her a job.
There are also enough rumors about Manning’s off-field behavior that indicates he’s not everything that Madison Avenue banks on you believing. Manning’s current rumored behavior is rooted in the unconventional compared to traditional family values. It’s alleged behavior that corporations would not embrace if confirmed or more discussed more often on a national stage. Personally, it’s his and his family’s business and this rumored behavior is perfectly legal and consensual in contrast to the assault he allegedly committed on the Vols trainer (that was clearly a childish prank from Manning’s point of view, but nonetheless an assault if the events happened as the accuser described).
What disturbs me most with Winston is what also bothers me about Hill, Roethlisberger, Vick, Rice, and Peterson: How do I resolve the ambivalence I have for enjoying what they do for a living, but disliking their behavior off the field, and in some cases, how they got away with it or earned a lesser punishment? They’ve all engaged in behavior during their football careers that should lead us all to ponder how they’re still considered eligible employees.
These players force us to think cynically and pragmatically about teams as businesses and question the type of behaviors that a team can or should cope with if the potential rewards are great. Based on the glimpse of the macabre carnival lurking behind the glass of the NFL’s league office on Park Avenue, Winston is not as big of a deal as it may appear.
And if we all take a moment to ponder this on a level beyond how much fun we have watching his exploits for our amusement, it explains why people in the know will tell you that you don’t want to peek behind the curtain.
In addition to my Futures column, you can watch my film break down of the Notre Dame game with RSP Film Room guest Sigmund Bloom.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.
You can reserve a copy of the 2015 RSP beginning in January. The latest edition of the RSP is made available for download on April 1 and the Post-Draft is published a week after the draft. Stay tuned.