by Michelle Wolff
Two to three times a week I get a hot wing craving and – bad news for my budget – I indulge it. A few weeks ago I just wanted to eat hot wings and talk to my friend. At the restaurant, news about another sports player being accused of sexual assault was written in stark black and white text on the running ribbon of evil at the bottom of several TV screens. I wanted to ignore it because I didn’t want that sinking feeling in my stomach, that cynicism which arises in anticipating that nothing will be done. Again.
This time, it was Jameis Winston, a football quarterback for Florida State University who was slated to be presented with the highly coveted Heisman trophy on December 13, 2013 (he did win). He is accused of raping a young woman a year ago. The reasons given for declining the case by the Florida State Attorney’s Office were that the victim had gaps in her memory, it took her a month to identify Winston as her rapist, and two eye witnesses report she gave consent. In addition, DNA evidence recovered from her underwear included that of her boyfriend. The gaps in her memory are consistent with a drug facilitated assault yet much is being made of a toxicology screen showing nothing was in her system. Not much is being said about how quickly those drugs become undetectable.
There has been a lot of coverage on the subject of these allegations, even though Jameis Winston is playing at the college level and this may be due to his upcoming award. Some are saying the timing of these allegations is suspicious, however the case was actually reported in December 2012 immediately after the incident and the Tallahassee PD had been holding it as inactive. This was not at all a case of delayed reporting.
Even more interesting than the articles about this case are what I read in the comments sections. If you want to know the state of the general public’s attitudes on rape take a half hour and start skimming through comment sections. What I found alternately horrified me but ultimately gave me hope and a direction to go with educating the public.
Heather Cox, an ESPN reporter was lambasted for having the temerity to question Winston regarding the case just after it had been closed.
Comments indicated varying views on the reporter’s questions being out of line. They ranged from a sort of “how dare she” ask him about the issue to a clear “why shouldn’t she” ask about it opinion. Sports figures have become notorious for attracting scandal and it was surprising to see that some people thought he shouldn’t be asked anymore. Possibly because they aren’t aware that with celebrity comes questions of all kinds inappropriate or not about all aspects of one’s life? Possibly because of the subject matter? It’s impossible to determine.
Another article, which also has a video clip, described Winston and his family as “satisfied” that the case is closed. No mention was made of whether the victim felt satisfied.
Here is a sample of comments (as of this writing there are 64) from that article. The most disturbing of these comments is the one that suggests that if you can be labeled “promiscuous” then rape charges become harder to prove:
This small sample has so many stereotypes in it. Promiscuity, “word against word,” they want attention, doing it for the money. More than one commenter said the family is out to get a reality TV show contract. That’s a new one on me I have to say and while Honey Boo Boo may be a depressing highlight of the worst of my Southern heritage it certainly doesn’t have parallels to a false rape report.
The best article I read, which was written by a far more articulate writer than I, discusses our country’s long history of letting sports stars off the hook and illustrates why Heather Cox’s questions were appropriate. For the author’s trouble he is called a “Winston hater.”
As with all heinous subjects, it’s easy to give up hope when you read things written out of ignorance, however if you look for it you can find the voices of reason. Although those voices may be temporarily outshouted by the masses of the uninformed I have to believe it will change. In the meantime, while I order more hot wings, I now understand that planting the seeds of education happens not on my FB page, it’s in the comments sections of articles such as these for this is where potential jurors hang out and this is where, just maybe, I can have an impact.