A Rapist as the Face of the NFL

If you’re looking for information on the upcoming NFL draft, there are few places better than DraftTek. Currently, they have the Tennessee Titans, who own the second pick in the first round, taking Florida quarterback and former national champion and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Here’s their rationale (emphasis mine):

It’s still early in the off-season process, so it’s tough to see if Tennessee believes Zach Mettenberger is the quarterback of the future, or if the team will look in another direction, especially since they are sitting in the top two picks, guaranteeing either Mariota or Winston. Winston has impressed everyone on the field since he completed his first 11 career passes and tore apart the Pittsburgh defense. He has good pocket presence, a strong arm, and most important, the ability to lead receivers and “throw them open.” The NFL will not give great passing lanes, but Winston has shown he can complete passes in tight spaces. It’s a hard skillset to pass on, and if he can do well in interviews, Winston’s “character concerns” will be an afterthought.

Now, when NFL draft prognosticators talk about “character concerns,” they can mean almost anything. They do not usually mean credible allegations of rape. Maybe the prospect smoked weed. Maybe they were in an altercation in a bar. Maybe they were suspended for a few games for unspecified violations of team rules. Perhaps they assaulted their girlfriend. “Character concerns” run a gamut from the concerning to the alarming to the “no way in hell are we drafting this guy.”

Winston does have some of the more garden-variety types of character concerns. He was once handcuffed and released because he was using a BB gun to shoot squirrels near the Florida State campus. In another incident, the police were called because he was stealing soda at a Burger King. He was arrested for shoplifting crab legs at a grocery store, which earned him a suspension from the baseball team until he completed his community service. And then he was suspended for one football game for standing on a table in the student union and yelling misogynistic vulgarities.

These are the kinds of “character concerns” that frequently cause an athlete to get picked lower in the draft than their talent level would otherwise warrant. But rape is the kind of allegation that can prevent a player from being drafted at all. Or, if they are drafted, this can happen:

It was the second day of the 1996 NFL draft. [Christian] Peter’s phone rang. Bill Parcells, then coach of the New England Patriots, was calling to say the team had picked him in the fifth round and Peter should report to the team’s headquarters in a few days for rookie camp.

“Yes, sir,” Peter said he replied. “I won’t let you down.”

Within 48 hours, Peter got another call from the Patriots, suddenly under fire from women’s groups and others for selecting a player with such a violent history. Peter was being released before he had even suited up.

Almost 20 years later, he calls it the worst day of his life.

Don’t feel badly for Christian Peter. When he was a star football player at the University of Nebraska, “he was arrested eight times, convicted four times and accused of assaulting four women.” And he managed to catch on in the NFL, spending a few seasons (to my chagrin) playing for the New York Giants. In the aftermath of the Ray Rice Incident, the NFL consulted Mr. Peter on how to keep their players from beating the shit out of women.

Kathy Redmond, who accused Peter of raping her twice at Nebraska, was incensed that the NFL looked to Peter for insight. She says the decision “shuns the victims.” Natalie Tysdal, whom Peter was convicted of sexually assaulting while at the school, says she was confused.

It’s true that things are better than they were twenty years ago, and it’s also true that the NFL is trying to make things even better, but there’s a broader cultural problem that’s demonstrated by how the rape allegations against Jameis Winston are just brushed aside by the draft analysts. Here are a couple more examples:

Walter Football has Winston going first overall, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

It’s not a matter of what position Tampa addresses, but rather which quarterback it takes. It’s obviously between Marcus Mariota [of Oregon] and Jameis Winston, and I considered the former the favorite until recently. However, Charlie Campbell reported that the Buccaneers currently prefer Jameis Winston over Marcus Mariota.

I think they’re crazy, but the Buccaneers apparently aren’t worried about Winston going nuts in Ybor or at Mons Venus. The latter would have to rename itself Mons Jameis after Winston puts the owners’ kids through college.

At least he expresses some concern about the wisdom, if not the morality, of picking Winston with the first overall draft pick.

Here’s Bleacher Report, which has Winston going as the 6th overall pick to the New York Jets:

Jameis Winston may not need the big stage of the Big Apple, but the Big Apple needs Jameis Winston. Rather, the Jets need him, as they look to move on from the short-lived Geno Smith era and pump some life into a lifeless offense that certainly has potential.

The Big Apple “needs” this guy? Here the “character concerns” are so submerged that you could be forgiven for thinking Winston doesn’t “need” the big stage of New York City because he’s shy or something.

Here’s what Winston is accused of doing:

[Erica] Kinsman says the man then bought her a shot, and after she took it, she started to become very woozy. She faintly remembers being taken in a cab to an apartment, and the next thing she knew, the man was on top of her, engaging in vaginal intercourse with her. She says she begged and pleaded for him to stop, and then saw the man’s roommate enter the bedroom and tell his friend, “Stop… What are you doing?”

Kinsman says that the man ignored the roommate’s pleas, and took her to the bathroom, which could be locked from the inside. There, he pinned her head against the tiled floor with his hand, and continued to rape her. When he finished, the man allegedly said, “You can leave now.”

She later identified him because they were taking the same class together. Eventually, after being ignored for a long time, she succeeded in proving that the semen collected on the night of the rape belonged to Winston. Still, he wasn’t prosecuted.

Kinsman’s case finally gained some traction in November 2013, when it was reported that DNA provided by Winston matched a DNA sample taken from her underwear on the night of the alleged assault. The odds of the DNA belonging to someone other than Winston were 1 in 2.2 trillion. She couldn’t fathom why it took 11 months for the case to make its way to local prosecutors.

But on December 5, 2013, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that the case was over, and no charged would be filed against Winston.

They would have had a stronger case to take to court if the crime had been rigorously investigated when it was reported, but this piece isn’t about the investigation or Winston’s ultimate “legal” guilt or innocence.

This guy is going to be the face of some NFL franchise in a few months. He may even be the first player drafted, making him the face of the entire league for a few days. And the fact that there is a very credible allegation that he drugged a woman in a bar and then raped her in his dorm room is basically something that NFL analysts are too polite to mention.

It’s not all on the league officials to protect the integrity of the game. How about the rest of us call things what they are? What this guy seems to have done is a lot worse than what Ray Rice did. Ray Rice knocked his girlfriend unconscious in a casino elevator. Can we talk in the same plain language about what Jameis Winston did?

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.