Why Last Night’s Heisman Trophy Award Bothers Me

Last night the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City awarded it’s annual Heisman Trophy  for the most outstanding player in college football to Jameis Winston.  In this decision the Heisman Trophy reached a new low in selecting honorees. Up until a month ago, Mr Winston was facing the possibility of rape charges for an incident that occurred in December 2012, while he was still an unknown red shirt player at the school.  Authorities claim the alleged victim ceased to cooperate with pursuing charges in February 2013, but this may have happened after she was warned of the consequences of pursuing charges against Mr. Winston in a “football crazy town” like Tallahassee.  Charges were not filed because prosecutors didn’t think a conviction was possible. The way their decision was worded does not necessarily mean they thought there was not merit to the case. They just didn’t think they could win. That leaves enough questions that the award voters should have taken it into consideration when voting.

Some who defend the decision to give Mr. Winston this award point to a person being innocent until proven guilty in America.  I suppose that case could be made, but “innocent until proven guilty” applies to the court of law. In that sense, yes, he is not guilty of rape. Still, it does not apply to a private association that includes the word “integrity” in it’s criteria.  Something happened in which a young woman felt violated. If these were totally baseless charges, the prosecutor should have said something to that affect. Instead saying they didn’t think they had a strong enough case to get a conviction should leave enough question in award voters minds that they would consider another choice.
We’ve had enough examples throughout the country that we give athletes extra latitude in how they treat young women. A recent case in Missouri stands out in my memory right now. This award just validates that mentality more than ever. As the father of three daughters getting close to high school age, that bothers me.  I’d like to believe we live in a culture that will help me protect them from predatory behavior by one of their future male classmates, but this decision and the people defending it leave me doubting that.

In the end whether or not Mr. Winston won the Heisman Trophy this year will not affect his potential professional career when he feels ready to enter the NFL. If he’s learned that he needs to be a little more self-controlled around women, then I hope he has a great career. I believe in grace. I believe in second chances. Still, giving him the Heisman this year, when the cloud of suspicion is still there, sends the wrong message to the next generation of athletes.  It’s a message that needs to change.

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