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Winston case should be private matter

Image: Florida State QB Jameis Winston (© Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)
The Jameis Winston situation is full of complexities.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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The most important things here are fairness and justice. But for the woman who says she was sexually assaulted last year and for Jameis Winston those things are almost lost already.

Why? Because our justice system needed to figure this out in private, not from TMZ and then by almost every other media outlet salivating for web clicks over a salacious story: a freshman quarterback on the verge of winning the Heisman Trophy and leading his Florida State team to the national championship game in a sexual assault scandal? Wow.

If only there were some way to tell this story while redacting Winston’s name. But then, it wouldn’t be a story, would it? His name has now been dragged down recklessly in sentences including the words felony sexual assault, under headlines about investigations and state attorney and Special Victim’s Unit. I’m sure the word allegedly has been shoved in a few times, but nobody actually reads that word anyway. It’s a legal thing for reporters to cover their backsides.

And in all the analysis, the victim is unfairly doubted because the police report said she was drinking, doubted as if maybe she was consenting to some level, doubted because of the timing, as Winston is now hitting it big as Famous Jameis.

Can we stop playing this out in public please? It is only making things worse for everyone. At least the victim’s name has been redacted and has managed to stay out of the headlines.

This whole thing has been entirely unfair to Winston. His name should not be out there, publicly, connected to this case. Florida State mentioned him in a release, but it all but had to after the reports were out.

Winston has not been charged with anything. The victim’s description of him, as shown in the police report, doesn’t describe anyone who looks like him.

He is nowhere near 5-foot-9 to 5-11, as the victim described. Florida State lists him as 6-4, but that isn’t right, either. I’ve spoken with him, stood next to him. I’m 6-5. He’s at least that, and probably 6-6.

He did not weigh 240 pounds last year but was listed by Florida State as 195. Who knows how accurate 195 was, but it’s nowhere near the 240 pounds described in the police report. He also does not have straight hair.

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And at this point, authorities have not even accused him of anything.

No video has surfaced on YouTube. According to the police report, the victim said she didn’t know her attacker beforehand.

Am I saying he didn’t do it? No, I am not. I’m saying I don’t know. The police don’t know. The media writing about it don’t know. Florida State fans don’t know. And now people will always doubt the victim and also always doubt Winston.

I know it will sound to some people that I’m more concerned with protecting the attacker than the victim. No. The most important thing now is justice for the victim and not making her feel intimidated about coming forward, not making her feel as if anyone is accusing her of anything.

These are the tenets of sex assault cases and famous, popular people. Fans point the finger at the victim, and that just leads to future victims hiding out in fear of seeking justice.

The problem here is with attaching the word attacker with Winston.

It is indelible. Winston is never going to live this down, not fully. At this point, it’s not even fair to wonder publicly whether he was involved, as no one has charged him. But if it turns out that charges are never even filed, then all those headlines will still be there, easily accessible by Google search.

We have freely, openly, without reservation – and permanently – connected Winston’s name with felony sexual assault before anyone has charged him with it.

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I called eight Heisman voters Thursday to see if this is already affecting Winston’s chances of winning. All eight said the case is filled with way too many holes to affect their vote yet. Two said off-field things would never change their vote anyway.

This should not factor into his Heisman chances. At this point, he’s not involved. Investigating just means that people are looking into it. If that ever changes, we can re-evaluate then.

We need to let the justice system run its course. Yes, there are things bothering me about the case. When Winston’s attorney says he spoke with police about the case in February but also makes the point that police haven’t spoken to Winston, that seems confusing. The point he’s making is that if police thought Winston might have been involved, then they would have talked to Winston.

Yet they did, apparently, talk to his attorney.

The state attorney says the police turned over the case to his office this week and that he didn’t know anything about it before that. The police were investigating in February, and Winston’s attorney says they told him the case was closed back then. Then, the media get involved, somehow, and the case is suddenly on the state attorney’s desk?

So questions are whether the police were covering up at first to help a football team, and that question in itself publicly convicts Winston. Maybe the police just dropped it for lack of evidence? That question publicly accuses the victim.

We are not capable, via Twitter, to serve up justice. Lives and social issues are involved. It’s too important to be played out in public.

Tagged: Florida State, Florida

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