Joe Coughlin

The Winston Situation: Most Times, Smoke Leads To Fire

Created on Nov. 22, 2013 2:21 AM EST

“The Hesiman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

The final two words of the Heisman mission are going to decide the Heisman Trophy this year more than any other in recent memory.

Johnny Manziel’s offseason problems (the memorabilia-signing scandal that cost him one half of football) put him in a hole in defense of his first Heisman. His play has helped him climb part of the way out of that hole; however, it still won’t get him the trophy as long as at least one other player is within striking distance.

There are more serious and complex allegations against another Heisman candidate — Jameis Winston.

Day by day, new information is coming out in this case, which involves a December 2012 Tallahassee police report that named Winston as a sexual assault suspect. The woman dropped the charges and Winston has never been arrested, questioned or charged. Please keep that in mind. It’s the most important piece of this puzzle. In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty, even if it feels the other way around.

But, news came out this week that Winston’s DNA, which he willingly gave to investigators, was linked the woman accuser.

With that news, and subsequent comments from Winston’s counsel, we know some things:

• Winston had sex with his woman accuser.

• His attorney says it was consensual.

• The family of the accuser says she was pressured into not pursuing the charges.

• The lawyer of the accuser was also bullied, according to reports.

The news is as compelling as it is controversial. This season, Winston has become the darling of the college football world, succeeding on the highest level with strong character to go with unparalleled skill.

For now, I am giving Winston the benefit of the doubt, but my time in and out of this industry has taught me: Where there's smoke, there’s normally fire.

It’s in the “normally," though, where we can find hope. Not every hero is a crook and sometimes it takes an ordeal to prove that.

The part that should really grind the gears of sports fans is that once again, we have to follow a star athlete into the mud.

On the radio this morning, not only did I hear commentary on the Winston incident for minutes on end, but it only bled right into minutes on the ARod vs. MLB case also dominating headlines. All I wanted to hear was analysis on Prince Fielder being traded to the Texas Rangers. That was the sports news of the day, and there wasn’t enough time.

It saddens me that it’s rare we can make it through a sports season without having a pariah. We always talk about how powerful sports can be — how the popularity and excitement of the game can distract us from everything from a headache to heartbreak. Well, this is the other side. We can’t have the sweet without the sour. We place athletes on pedestals somewhere in the clouds and when they freefall, it's both horrific and brilliant to our senses. Then, we have someone new to crucify around the water cooler.

It’s too much. The sports fan has gone too far. Tallahassee police officers allegedly told a sexual assault victim that “this is a football town,” before bullying her into shutting down. I don’t care if you’re in Tallahassee or Dover, Delaware, throwing a football is not important. It is not essential. The fact that even one person in this world thinks so, saddens me. Whether or not Winston is charged, those officers should be identified and never be allowed to police again.

I hope Winston is innocent for the sake of the town, the Heisman and the game, and I believe there’s a chance that is the case. But I also believe there’s an equal chance it’s not, and Winston is just another bad seed in a sport we can't quit. The rabbit hole gets deeper until the bottom. I don’t think we’re there yet. Either way, this year's Heisman Trophy race is tainted even further. No longer can we talk about brilliance on the field without being reminded of the damage done off of it.

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