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Did Big Time Football Trump Justice at Florida State University?

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

We all know that when it comes to reporting rape cases, Higher Ed has issues.

Schools are known to hide behind excuses like having limited jurisdictions, and their laws are also sticklers for confidentiality.

But that’s no reason to not work to improve a school’s response to sexual assault charges.

Indeed, President Obama recognized the problem in January when he signed a memo establishing a White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assaults. It resulted from a White House report that said one in five women is sexually assaulted while they attend college.

But now mix Higher Ed’s sexual assault problem with Higher Ed’s intoxication for big time athletics, and the problem grows exponentially.

It’s one thing to gnash teeth about garden variety athletic scandals like aggressive recruitment, hidden payments, or whether athletes go to class or graduate on time, but add sexual assault into the mix, and suddenly, we are in a whole new legal, ethical and moral realm—one that requires a whole different level of outrage.

In other words, we all better be at least as riled up about it as we would over an interference call for our favorite team.

And yet, look at what we have with one of the most publicized college rape cases in the nation involving Jameis Winston, the Heisman winning quarterback and star player for the No.1 football team in the country, Florida State University.

Winston managed to escape suspension and was allowed to continue to play.

And then his case was thrown out by the state attorney in Leon County, Fla., as being insufficient to produce a conviction.

Race doesn’t appear to be a relevant issue here. Winston is Black; his accuser is White.

But Winston is the star player, and that makes all the difference. It’s an example of what you might call in the South, “Gridiron Justice.” When the accused is the school’s big-time football meal ticket, there’s no pedal to the medal for justice. Authorities are just likely to take the foot off the gas.

At least that’s my impression after The New York Times published its investigation of the Winston case last week.

Reporter Walt Bogdanich, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, revealed that “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”

Wrote Bogdanich: “The police did not follow the obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect as well as witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police did not even attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA. The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then prematurely suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.”

The police don’t really have much of an excuse. Investigators just didn’t do certain things that would seem to be standard protocol.

It was like they were playing out the clock to Winston’s advantage.

FSU responded to The Times piece in what appears to be a fully-lawyered statement. Essentially, the school said it did what was required.

FSU claimed it had no official complaint until after the suspect first reported the incident to the police on Dec. 7, 2012.

Never mind that the athletic department was in contact with law enforcement as early as Jan. of 2013.

Winston hasn’t been convicted, but he certainly has been given the kind of treatment not afforded the victim.

Maybe if she played football, the victim would be on a level playing field and have a shot at justice.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (  Like him at and follow him on twitter@emilamok.

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