I was listening to the radio and the topic turned to something I hadn’t thought about in quite some time with regards to the NBA.
Do you remember what the NBA used to be like? Serious drug problems, fighting in arenas, image issues; Whatever was associated with bad was associated with the NBA.
Nowadays, however, is a completely different story. The league’s biggest stars aren’t in the news for anything other than fashion trends and basketball. We can mock and boo David Stern all we want, but his policies have put the league in a position that would make any public relations professional swoon.
Then I started thinking about football and the reality of their image hit me hard.
Countless serious arrests in the past 12-months. Some of their biggest and brightest stars aren’t even on the field on Sunday because they can’t pass the league mandated drug policy, and the universities tasked with nurturing that talent for three years prior to entering the professional ranks can’t seem to get it right in regards to real discipline. Every time I turn on the television bad news is coming from the sport of football, NFL and college. It’s exhausting as a fan and follower, really, and spare me the “imagine how they feel” reaction because, let’s be honest, all of this is self-inflicted.
Which brings me to Jameis Winston and Florida State University.I’m fed up, we have to do better in holding these institutions responsible for what they’re putting in front of us.
In the case (cases?) of Winston, we are seeing what is becoming the status quo for programs. Winston was born and raised in Bessemer, Alabama. It’s a town with a population no bigger than a neighborhood in Los Angeles, where 70% of the people look like him (African-American), and the median income for a male is no more than a seasoned bank teller.
Winston starred at Hueytown High School and was the top Quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class (10th overall high school player in America). He chose Florida State over Alabama, Auburn, and Stanford; all of which he took official visits to during recruiting. He beat out every other Quarterback on the roster and led the Seminoles to the National Championship his freshman year. He played in front of crowds sometimes four times larger than the city he was raised or its surrounding area. He became the second freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Memorial Trophy and we, as fans, were able to admire his athletic ability. You would be a fool to deny this young man has talent on a football field.
Unfortunately that isn’t what we are going to talk about. Winston’s actions have become such that they are literally putting his future in jeopardy.
There’s the grocery store incident in which he was caught stealing. The 2012 sexual-assault case that continues to linger because of cover-ups, lies, and a lack of institutional follow-up. There was an incident with Winston that involved a BB gun and the shooting out of windows. He was “suspended” for the Clemson game for yelling an obscene gesture in the student union. On campus. While standing on a chair. As the most recognizable figure in Tallahassee. Florida State is (finally) getting around to actually addressing the issues revolving around its quarterback and football program, something that has been a subject of conversation for two decades.
(Note: It’s also worth noting Winston is involved in the autograph-for-money situation. When the news of Todd Gurley, the University of Georgia’s star running back who is suspended while the school and the NCAA investigate whether or not he received payment for signing memorabilia, broke I was angry at the school (more on that in a later blog post). The hours these student-athletes put in while working on what is essentially a year-to-year (read: not guaranteed) scholarship should merit stronger push back against the NCAA from the academic institutions that profit from them. I didn’t think Georgia, in that instance, had Gurley’s back, and I was upset as a fan. I know the rules, but I won’t concede my thinking to that of the NCAA’s that profiting off one’s brand/likeness is a bad thing or a suspend-able offense. Have they learned nothing from the Ed O’Bannon case? So as far as THAT is concerned I’m not as upset about this part of Winston’s growing list of issues.)
Look at what is going on in this young man’s life. These are serious allegations/cases/offenses. These aren’t the missteps of youth as everyone would have us believe, there is something going on here and it is catching up with Winston before he really even gets started. Bobby Bowden gave an interview on ESPN and credited Winston with being able to block out all of the distractions once he steps between the lines. He also mentioned that Winston “needed to grow up” and likened his actions to those of a “middle schooler.” What he failed to go into was whether or not he thought Winston should be playing.
Again, what are we really talking about if it isn’t getting this young man to understand how life works outside of those lines?
Winston’s issues make the decision by commissioner Roger Goodell in the case of the Baltimore Ravens and their former starting running back (still will remain nameless on this site) seem even more idiotic. Think about the hierarchy of football as an institution, from Pee-Wee to the NFL. Who stands at the top of that food chain? How does it look when that person, who has an unbelievable amount of disciplinary power, doesn’t show those within that institution that such behavior won’t be tolerated at the highest level? You want to know where to start when it comes to reversing the image problem currently plaguing the NFL? How about right at the top. Hiring Dawn Hudson as Chief Marketing Officer is great, I’m positive she is more than qualified and will do a wonderful job. That being said, what else are you going to do? You won’t fool me with diversions and cleverly timed commercials.
Florida State University is a fine institution of academics. I know a few people who have gone to and graduated from there. I have to say that their handling of Winston does not leave me impressed. There are a laundry list of allegations and issues with Winston that have nothing to do with the NCAA but with law enforcement (like no joke lawyers and cops). Why has the university not done what the athletic department seems too slow (reluctant?) to do? He should not be playing until his house, his personal life is in order.
That statement isn’t just for Winston, it’s for anyone else playing (Ray McDonald, 49ers) with such issues unresolved. NFL, college, or otherwise.
That “punishment” after the obscene gesture incident was initially for the first half, but it was later discovered that Winston had not been completely honest in what had happened; which is why it was then made a full game. In this instance he’s done something wrong, got punished, found out the punishment was only a half, and then was okay with taking a full game and confessing the rest. Let’s call this what it was people: a lack of respect for the institution, his coaches, his teammates, and his future employer: the NFL. He knows he’s going to the next level. So why should he care? Never mind the dumpster fires we’ve seen left behind at campuses across America after a player (or coach’s) bad behavior. Forget that there are thousands of Alumni that represent your university and they should be given some form of consideration when you allow their alma mater to be spoken of in public.
It all seems so simple right? Taking a moral standing when it counts and before being told to do so.
Clearly whatever background digging scouts and others are doing before the draft isn’t working as well as it could be. Stop coddling bad behavior and treating him with kid gloves. Winston has experienced all the highs of being an athlete at the highest level in college, which is fantastic, but at what point does he get pulled aside and told that what he’s doing doesn’t fly in the real world? When does the message get sent throughout the institution of football that this isn’t alright and get nipped early? When does $12 million dollars plus not mean selling your ethical soul for the next big bowl check?
I’m not here to simply criticize. I have a solution, counter Winston’s (and others who show a disregard for the rules we all have to live by) penchant for causing uncertainty with his behavior by letting him know this won’t be tolerated at the next level and he might not be there if it does? Sit him until his issues are resolved off the gridiron. Let him know that his press conferences, apologies, etc. are wonderful but we need to know you’re ready to lead this team in more ways than one.
Football turns the financial wheel in the business of college athletics, but it can’t come at the expense of rearing good people and preparing them for the future.