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Winston Case Shows Hypocrisy of Media Coverage

by on December 11, 2013 9:00 AM

It was hard not to follow the story of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback accused of sexual battery by a fellow student.

As a Florida State grad and football fan, I watched with close interest to see how the case played out. Few things would make me happier right now than an FSU national championship, which would be out of reach if Winston was charged and removed from the team.

So I was relieved when the state attorney's office announced that Winston wouldn't be charged. I'd like to think it's because nothing illegal happened, but that's apparently not the case. Charges aren't being brought because there isn't enough evidence to get a conviction. Maybe a rape occurred, maybe it didn't. No one can say for sure except the two people involved.

But as a Penn State football fan, I also watched in interest to see how Winston was treated by the media. Many of the same media outlets that previously condemned Joe Paterno and his handling of the Sandusky scandal went out of their way to remind us that Winston shouldn't be judged on what might be false allegations.

A close comparison of the original allegations against Sandusky and the Winston case show that they followed the same legal protocol.

In 1998, Jerry Sandusky was accused of inappropriately touching a young boy. The boy's mom notified the police, who investigated and took their finding to district attorney Ray Gricar. Gricar decided not to prosecute, possibly because there was no evidence supporting illegal activity.

In the Jameis Winston case, a fellow student accused him of sexual assault. The local police investigated, though an argument can be made that the investigation wasn't handled as well as it could have been. The results were turned over to the state attorney's office, who decided not to prosecute because there was not enough evidence to prove illegal activity.

So after a police investigation concludes with the decision not to press charges, what more should a head coach, who is not part of law enforcement, do? Do we expect Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher to bench Winston anyway? Of course not. But the sports writers and pop culture critics who continue to deride Joe Paterno for not doing enough about Jerry Sandusky must demand the same from Fisher. Or, they can admit that they are hypocrites.

Both the Freeh Report and the NCAA cite Paterno for not doing enough during the 1998 investigation. But after the DA walked away from it, what more could he have done? I don't believe Paterno knew about 1998, but is it reasonable to suggest that he should have called someone higher up, the attorney general perhaps, to ask them for another investigation?

If you believe he should have, then you must also expect Fisher to do the same. Never mind that Fisher would look foolish to go outside the lines of police hierarchy to request another investigation. It's only now, using that famous phrase "with the benefit on hindsight," that we can see how the 1998 investigation could have prevented future abuse if evidence of sexual misconduct was found then. But it wasn't.

The two cases, though, are not so different. You can't support the legal system in the Winston case and not support it in the Sandusky case.

CBS National Columnist Gregg Doyel is on board with the idea that the legal system worked in the Winston case. He wrote:

"You say there's a chance he's a rapist? I say the people who investigated this case have decided that, legally speaking, there's a much more likely chance he's not. I say the idea that Winston is guilty just because he was accused is scary, and doesn't sound like any America I want to live in."

I agree completely with Doyel, but he's also the same columnist who blames Joe Paterno for not stopping Jerry Sandusky. He previously said that based on the Freeh Report "Jerry Sandusky snuck around in the shadows ... while Joe Paterno held the door for him."

Dan Wetzel, columnist for Yahoo Sports, is also harshly critical of Paterno, writing in July 2012 that Paterno's actions specifically "allowed a sexual predator's reign of terror to continue under the protection and power of Nittany Lion football." But last month, before anyone knew whether charges would be brought against Winston, Wetzel wrote that Winston deserved the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

Speaking as devil's advocate, maybe in a few years, more cases will surface against Winston. I certainly hope not, but what will we say then? Since we all know about this first allegation, are we all to blame for not doing more after law enforcement cleared him?

Of course not. And neither is Joe Paterno.

Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at
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