Winston Reports Leave Fans Speechless

Fans and detractors alike at a loss with Jameis Winston

Going out and asking people in the Tampa Bay area how they feel about Jameis Winston’s reported upcoming suspension, and further reports of what took place in March of 2016 in a Scottsdale Uber, the prevailing order of the day was a refusal to comment.

Off-camera and off-mic, an anonymous couple who love Florida State football and Tampa Bay sports explained their inability to say anything.  They want to like Jameis Winston, they want to root for him, and they want to believe him.  After all, they rooted for him.  As Seminoles fans, they celebrated a championship to which he led FSU.  He represents the potential future for the Buccaneers as well.  As sports fans, then, it makes perfect sense that they wish all the success in the world for Winston.  However, as human beings, a love of sports teams does not obligate them to defend a quarterback against claims nobody can disprove.

One thing easily evident in sports conversations around Tampa Bay is that the story around Winston right now is difficult to follow.  The incident took place in 2016, which can be yesterday or increasingly distant depending on your age and the degree to which you notice time passing.  The national story did not break until well into the 2017 season, a morning story before a Sunday slate of football games.  Since then, there had been little movement in any direction.  The NFL investigated for eight months.  Now that they seem ready, according to reputable reports, to hand down a suspension it seems that more information is leaking out.  Now there is talk that Winston’s public account of the incident is being called into serious question, and the emergence of another person out with Winston who is currently in prison for sexual assault.

It can be a lot to take in, and unless one is following it closely the details can get lost.  Some of those who refused comment asked for clarification on exactly what is known.  Others simply said they didn’t know enough about it to comment.

In private conversations, people let the word “disappointed” slip out more than once.  In some cases, Winston’s history of being under accusation and making some poor public decisions was parsed out, as though what is being accused would have been a non-issue for somebody who had never been in trouble before.

Thinking about it clearly, “no comment” is just about the only real answer a fan of the Buccaneers and/or Florida State can have when considering everything at play.  These are people who have identified with those teams for years and years, longer than Winston has been with them.  At the same time, the world is about a year into the constant reminders of abuse toward women dubbed “Me Too” in the press.  There is a desire to let due process play out, but of course with no charges filed as yet and no lawsuit pending the proper rules of the courtroom do not apply here.  Therefore, people remember Roger Goodell’s questionable history of suspensions with dubious evidence, but on the other hand many people work in businesses with tight codes of conduct and accept it as just part of life.

There may have been witnesses, but reports on that contradict each other.  Besides, one of these potential witnesses is a former teammate and longtime friend of Winston’s.  The other is currently in prison for something worse than what has been alleged here.

History comes into play, but of course Jameis Winston’s history is equally nebulous.  He has been accused of something before, but no charges were filed and nothing ever made it to trial. Any way one wishes to talk about that incident, the same frustrating lack of a conclusion is the order of the day.  Everything else the man has been brought under scrutiny for might show some bad decisions on his part, but in those instances the bad decisions were not of the same nature as this.

Most importantly, people tend to realize that a lack of a camera in the Uber at the time means that hard evidence is pretty much impossible to come by.  The world is left with a bunch of stories, and that’s not because of anything sinister but simply the nature of what is being accused.  This is as frustrating from the driver’s perspective as it is from Winston’s.  Allegations cannot be proven decisively, nor can Winston truly clear his name from them.  This leads to a conclusion that will never be truly satisfying.

For the fan, commentary is nearly impossible.  Taking a story where the information is still coming in to the public, trying to put it in a football context and making character judgments at the same time while also trying to set bias aside is a tall order for anyone, let alone the proverbial “man on the street.”

So much remains unclear.  The public simply does not have the full information, and likely never will.  The actual suspension has not been made official yet, meaning it could actually turn out to be different from reports, and nobody knows how Friday’s news of new accounts of the situation played in the NFL’s front office.

Until more is revealed, what’s clear is that most of Tampa Bay is not particularly comfortable talking about it.  They have, as it were, no comment.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.