For Jameis Winston, guilty until proven innocent a weekly reality

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This is an article about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (watches clicks go up). It is not skewering him (watches clicks go down).

Winston and FSU step into the limelight for football reasons this Saturday against Notre Dame and Everett Golson, he of his own off-field issues in the past. Between the two, their records as starting quarterbacks are a combined 36-1 with two BCS title game appearances and one title.

However, a lot of people think Winston shouldn’t play, or rather shouldn’t be allowed to play. Insert hot take hash tag.

That opinion isn’t nonsense, but it isn’t fully sensible either. Just to throw this question out there: what if Winston is guilty of nothing other than stolen crab legs (which he was punished for at the time they happened) and brazen immaturity? What then? The hot takes get cold, and stuff called “the burden of proof” starts to become a thing again.

We live in a sports world rooted in “guilty until proven innocent,” and the media masses have decided they’re tired of Winston for a variety of reasons. Being immature and/or stupid are not illegal, last I checked. If they were, we’d mostly still be doing community service to pay for our early 20s.

Winston should play, and hopefully will play, unless something emerges which proves guilt of either taking money for autographs or the more serious charge of something nefarious regarding the alleged sexual assault from two years ago, a claim that to this point has failed to bring charges against Winston.

The NCAA doesn’t necessarily act like a court of law, nor is the legal system perfect, but it’s much better than the hot take society we live in that wants action taken based on the relative level of outrage from people on social media/actual media.

This is a good thing, because innocent until proven guilty is no longer a thing based on the subject being tried on the dais of public opinion.

While using (shudder) Twitter this morning from the @TheStudentSect account (credit to user name @CWGBuckeyes35), I got embroiled in an actual (and rare) intelligent conversation with another user regarding how Ohio State handled a few issues in the past and how Florida State has handled this one. Carlos Hyde was suspended for his role in a night club incident, but when video of the incident emerged, Hyde was later exonerated. Similarly, the user mentioned Florida quarterback Treon Harris, who was declared immediately ineligible in the wake of an alleged sexual assault situation last week.

The Harris thing is a massive can of worms too, because if he was determined to have done nothing wrong to the point where the suspension was lifted, why was he left ineligible to play against LSU? I honestly don’t know the answer, so I’m not suggesting as though I do.

The argument was that other schools are doing so much more to discipline while Florida State sits by sipping High Life collecting wins and sticking its collective hands in its ears.

The slope gets mighty slippery though if we get to a point where immediate suspension over allegations becomes a thing. Here’s your scenario: Auburn fan figures Auburn has a hell of a better chance if Alabama’s all-star running back doesn’t play, so Auburn fan is at a party that said player is also at and says that player assaulted him out back in some way.

The allegation is false, but Auburn fan sees the current outrage climate as “allege something happened and if nothing else, the player the charges are brought against will miss a game.” Think it can’t happen? We have people suing fast food restaurants for coffee that’s too hot or people suing Red Bull for it not actually giving customers wings.

In the current climate, human ingenuity to screw someone else out of something is something above PHD level.

Back to Winston, however. In a court of law, it would need to be proven that Winston did something illegal, and lawyers rely on something called the burden of proof to convict someone. Does the court system get it right all the time? Nope. Is it better than any other option out there? Probably.

While the theory of “if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and smells like a duck, it must be a duck” works in the world of hot take sports media, that tripe wouldn’t fly with actual lawyers in a court of law, which is ideally how things like this should be treated.

Now, the casual reader might think, “Wait, wasn’t Todd Gurley suspended for the autographs?” Your issue there becomes that someone ratted on Gurley and provided some sort of measurable proof, enough to warrant — in Georgia’s mind — a suspension. A lot of that was probably helped along by the fact that there was a defined NCAA investigation to be done into the incident, which we’re yet to see with the Winston case.

If Florida State has made the mistakes some allege it has … accepting a police report from law enforcement turned over to an athletic department and then subsequently to a defense attorney to help formulate a case as well as not notifying the Title IX coordinator in an appropriate fashion, those things will be dealt with in due time.

The reality doesn’t change though that if Winston was innocent, punishment prior to having a burden of proof could expose endless worms seeping out of the can, especially if an innocent player is accused of something, is suspended, sees his draft stock fall, and takes that to court.

We’re a long way from anything like that, but at any rate, it’s important to be careful overall with attaching what you think “should” happen to what “should happen based on what is known.”

Look, if Winston did take loot for signing autographs and/or really did participate as the perpetrator in a sexual assault, no way this column here will defend any of that or him. All that’s being asked for is proof rather than assumption/outrage.

Winston surely needs to clean up his act if he’s to find success in life down the road. There’s a rope attached to doing dumb things, putting yourself in bad situations, and being immature. The length of that rope is often based on the talent possessed by the person needing it.

The guy meeting all of his sales quotas sometimes isn’t held to the same standard as the guy who can’t seem to sell a life raft to a guy walking the plank. That’s the way life is, and it’s not set to change anytime soon. Winston is a hell of a football player, so he gets more rope on doing dumb stuff, so long as said dumb stuff is not illegal to the point where it can be proven.

Is it unsavory to think that it might not be all “Naw, I didn’t do anything,” as Winston claims about that fateful night in 2012, or about signing autographs yet is still allowed to play? Yep. But Florida State surely isn’t the only one doing it if that is the case.

So what should be done? You know what’s a great motivator? Peer pressure after having to run bleachers at 5:30 a.m. for the entire team to the point where body parts you didn’t know you had hurt. Do that after crab legs or after shouting obscenities on a table and suddenly it’s made real clear by your teammates how you probably shouldn’t do that again.

No one, even the most selfish of players, ever wants to have a locker room full of guys cheesed off at them for making them run til their innards hurt. That’ll solve your off field problems quick, fast, and in a hurry in most cases.

As it stands, Florida State and Notre Dame will turn back the clock to 1993 this weekend, the last time we can really say these two programs will meet in the dead center of a college football championship discussion.

From there, the only burden of proof we’ll be looking for Saturday night is regarding which team can prove it belongs among the last four to play for a title in January.