Wiedmer: Winston ruling better now than later

Wiedmer: Winston ruling better now than later

December 5th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (5) scrambles for yardage in Gainesville, Fla., in this Nov. 30, 2013, file photo.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (5) scrambles for...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Just exactly what Florida state attorney Willie Meggs will announce at 2 p.m. today regarding his office's investigation into sexual assault allegations against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston remains a mystery.

The Florida prosecutor could choose to arrest Winston or clear him. No one seems to know, and if they do they aren't saying.

But assuming Meggs truly believes what he said on Wednesday, that "We think we have exhausted all investigative tools," he and his staff are to be praised for what this announcement won't allow to happen in the coming days.

Though the future football fate of Winston and the Seminoles in every way pales to securing justice for the possible victim, Meggs' move to end speculation today rather than next week also ends the circus that could have come to town with a delay.

If the state declines to press charges, the Seminoles will face Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game without questions of Winston's guilt or innocence hanging over them.

Just as important, if charges are filed and Winston is suspended from athletic department activities -- as is the custom at FSU regarding felony investigations -- his teammates wouldn't be able to ride Winston's considerable talents to a BCS title game invite, but then play for a national championship without him.

From a strictly football standpoint, that was the worst scenario possible. As good as FSU has been all season with Winston, many believe they are only this good because of him. Without him, most doubt that the Seminoles would be in a position to compete for a national championship, which means a FSU team without an indicted Winston in the BCS title game would be something of a fraud.

Then there's the Heisman Trophy vote. Many believe Winston to be the favorite to become the second redshirt freshman in a row to win his sport's biggest individual prize, following Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. But the prospect of voting for a possible rapist has caused many voters to delay finalizing their ballots, which are due on Monday.

Meggs' decision to announce his office's findings today rather than next week removes most of the tension and uncertainty for those Heisman voters.

Not that any of that should weigh heavily on anyone's minds when balanced against a rape charge. Nor should anyone feel less sympathy for the alleged victim in this case if Meggs clears Winston of the charges. DNA has already proven the two had sexual relations. The nature of those actions is only truly known to Winston and the woman and many experts believe that Winston and the woman in question could honestly and honorably have directly opposite perceptions of what took place that December 7 night in 2012.

Yet whatever happened, the woman felt compelled to call the police within two hours of her time with Winston and submit to a rape kit. Why more wasn't done between then and now is certain to be scrutinized in both public and private in the months to come.

But Meggs can't prosecute or punt this case based on the personal beliefs of Winston or the woman or the many months that passed before this case became public. He must make a potential life-altering decision based on the evidence at hand. He has also been clear from the beginning that he didn't want to charge Winston with rape without a "reasonable" chance of conviction.

There are plenty of troubling questions still floating around out there regarding this case. The family of the alleged victim has said the Tallahassee police discouraged her from pressing charges because Florida's state capitol was a football town and Seminoles fans could make life tough for her.

And there is no doubt much truth in that, though it could also easily be construed as attempting to protect a college football program rather than protecting an individual's rights and safety. If the latter were proven true, a lot of folks in the police department should have their own legal concerns.

Conversely, defenders of the 19-year-old quarterback from Hueytown, Ala., may fairly question why the alleged victim waited until the middle of football season and Winston's emergence as a Heisman contender to bring this case to light. The quarterback also has rights and privileges and if these charges are baseless, his reputation has been unjustly damaged, his storybook season unfairly soiled.

Nothing is certain at this moment. Little may be certain after Meggs' announcement, other than Winston's legal standing.

But assuming the prosecutor's office avoided the temptation to rush to judgement, regardless of his decision, it would seem better for all concerned to rule now rather than later, when whatever Meggs decided might be critiqued from every angle except what legally happened between Winston and his alleged victim 363 days ago.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com