At the time of Jameis Winston’s suspension from the FSU baseball team yesterday he was hitting .235 with 9 RBIs and 21 runs scored. He also had one caught stealing.*
But at least Shabazz Napier understands…
At face value, this story is nothing more than a great headline for Twitter jokes. Within an hour or so of ESPN.com posting their article about the Heisman winning two sport star being arrested for stealing shellfish from a Florida Publix, #JameisGotCrabs was trending nationwide. Jameis claims he simply walked out of the store forgetting to pay for the goods, but I prefer to believe he crammed an overstuffed bag of live craw fish down his pants and made a squeamish dance for the doors before one of them got loose and started pinching around. Perhaps he even called for a motivational huddle with his entourage in the frozen food section beforehand: “You stong?… We stong then!”
In a vacuum, this Jameis Winston Crab Grab saga is really no big deal. The kid, despite his national fame and attention, is still a college underclassman, and college underclassmen do stupid things. Eli Manning had a public intoxication arrest in college and has gone on to win multiple Super Bowl MVPs. Johnny Manziel got kicked out of Peyton Manning’s Passing Academy and nearly autographed his way out of NCAA Football, amongst other indiscretions, and he could be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft next Thursday. In the grand scheme of things a few hours of community service because you wanted to use up the extra Old Bay in the cabinet is no huge matter.
The problem is that this story doesn’t live in a vacuum. This story lives in the context of multiple off the field issues for the quarterback, all of which are matters of public record.
The unfortunate reality is that Jameis Winston had a sexual assault investigation swirling around him last year, and regardless of the outcome there are still many people who have questions as to what occurred on that night with his accuser. Now, I wouldn’t begin to compare the crimes of rape and deli isle petty theft, but this citation continues a pattern of bad judgment by Winston off the field, and in the social media driven society we live in, that’s more than enough for some people to draw the conclusions they’re eager to draw. It may or may not be Winston’s fault that his reputation took a serious hit with last year’s investigation, and I don’t pretend to know either way, but the fact is that it did. Now, every time he makes a boneheaded personal decision his character will be over scrutinized and his sexual assault case will resurface in national headline news. That is something within his control.
It also can’t, or shouldn’t, go without mention that both quarterbacks alluded to earlier, Manning and Manziel, are white and come from affluent backgrounds. The uncomfortable reality, which we’ve relearned this week through the words of Donald Sterling, is that race and social standing still play a judgmental role in this country. Some who are willing to laugh off the youthful shenanigans of Johnny Football may not be so willing to do so for Jameis, and some who gave Big Ben Rothlisberger the benefit of the doubt with his similar legal issues (twice) may not be as kind.
Winston has made his apology, and after he completes his community service this citation will be removed from his criminal record. But that’s not the only record that matters when you’re a famous amateur athlete with millions on the line. Public record and public perception can be nearly as crucial. If Winston wants to be an NFL lottery pick, then he needs to be more than just a great thrower of the football. He needs to be trustworthy, he needs to be dependable, and quite frankly he needs to be marketable. In other words, he needs to keep his off the field activities off the back pages.
*Technically Winston was 2-4 in stolen base attempts on the season prior to his arrest. But, as a wise man once said, never let the facts get in the way of your punchline.
Author: Pierce Brix
Pierce Brix is a radio host from Albany, New York. In addition to a Knicks, Giants, and Mets fan, he is also the region’s foremost Kal Penn fan. Follow him on Twitter @GameOnBrixy. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.