Jameis Winston is charismatic in the locker room. A person with connections to the Buccaneers staff in the room during Winston’s NFL Combine team interview told me before the NFL Draft that teammates would “follow him off a cliff.” That person also shared that Winston’s personality and off-field track record — not including the rape allegations — would force his new team to buckle into a rollercoaster ride that might not end well.
Four years later, the NFL suspended Winston three games for allegedly fondling an Uber driver after a season where depending whom you ask, Winston was better or worse than his stats. Although the extent of his development is debatable, Winston’s on-field talent has never been a question.
Effective leadership and Tampa Bay’s decision to choose Winston are worth revisiting. There was a time where NFL players — especially quarterbacks — could have a “bad boy” streak off the field. Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, and Brett Favre come to mind.
A family friend began her career writing for Newsweek in the 1970s. When she interviewed Namath, his responses weren’t much different from the ones he gave Suzie Kolber on national television nearly 40 years later.
Alcohol was certainly a factor but it was a convenient excuse — one that wasn’t needed decades ago as women were only beginning to make inroads in male-dominated industries. As American industry has become a more diverse and inclusive workplace, it has become clearer that people must be held accountable for harassment.
The allegations against Winston at FSU went far beyond harassment and combined with questions about his risk-taking personality on and off the field, it’s reasonable to understand why an NFL team wouldn’t have drafted him — especially in the first round as a franchise quarterback. With a dose of hindsight, we can wonder if the Buccaneers front office — like many companies — downplayed the behavior as indicative of an old-school, bad boy-good talent who would grow up just enough to deliver on investment and are behind the times.
I characterized Winston’s on-field behavior as a quarterback with a flamethrower of an arm who often tripped over the gas can and set his team ablaze during the first half only to figure out where to point that weapon and burn the defense in the second half. We all appreciate players comfortable with risk-taking on the field — at least to a degree. However, his off-field personality and behavior have matched his on-field tendencies too closely and the Buccaneers personnel department now owns that it may have been just as reckless with its evaluation.
It may not be over for Winston in Tampa. The suspension could serve as a near-career death experience that forces him to mature fast or lose everything. Regardless, it’s worth remembering as students of the NFL Draft process that Winston’s on- and off-field had disturbing parallels and his performance indicates that he hasn’t grown past either.
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