Sep 18, 2014

Jameis Winston a Symptom, and a Product, of Football Culture in Need of Change


What image do you see when Jameis Winston mimics a disturbing viral video by jumping on a table and yelling "F--k her right in the p---y!"? (If you're not following, the "F" is for a swear word and the "p" for a derogatory term for female anatomy.) Deadspin initially reported on the incident (h/t Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde) through a collection of NSFW tweets.

Do you see some college kid doing a dumb thing? Or something more shocking?

It should be shocking. Because football—and not just the NFL—is grappling with issues of acts of violence against women. And it shouldn't just take a graphic video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee out cold in an elevator to make us see the culture behind the violence. No, I'm not equating jumping on a table and yelling with domestic violence. It would be dangerous and unfair to Winston to go so overboard. But in a less obvious way, Winston's behavior is representative of a football culture that is the breeding ground for more serious offenses.

Anyone can see violence in a video, but what's harder to see is the seed of this kind of behavior.

Florida State announced (h/t The Miami Herald's Tim Linafelt) they had suspended Winston for the first half of Saturday's big game against Clemson for yelling that phrase. It was the right move by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, because the only thing that registers with so many athletes is taking them off the field.

With this latest incident, Winston is either turning into a dangerous cliche, or he already was one and we were duped out of realizing it. It's on us for not seeing it.

Last year, we were told so many times about how Winston was different, how he was a team player. At a press conference, we might see him stop talking about himself and start naming and thanking each individual offensive lineman.

Now, his image is transforming, maybe for fans and certainly for his future employers in the NFL. An anonymous NFL scout, according to Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel, tweeted this to him about Winston:


About this time last year, reporters asked Winston about Johnny Manziel's behavior, and Winston replied: "If I get Manziel Disease, I want every one of you all to get your mikes and start slapping me on the head."

He's going to be eating those words now, but the truth is, we're way past that. Winston's actions are far more hurtful than those of Johnny Football. Manziel was about partying and name-dropping and selling his autograph.

Winston's actions may not have been intentionally mean-spirited. But this isn't like his other recurring stupid mistakes, such as reportedly stealing soda pop (although the restaurant did not pursue charges) or crab legs. This is much bigger, and symbolic.

Think about this: Less than two years ago, a woman accused Winston of raping her. After an investigation, no charges were filed, but the whole thing made national news. And now, sports—football in particular—are staring down the issue of athletes and violence against women. It might be the first time football has decided to take this seriously, thanks to TMZ showing a video of Rice on the elevator.

And what does Winston do? Jumps on a table and starts yelling a statement that is degrading and dehumanizing to women. His outburst was not about sex.

Just a college kid, I know. Not a genius. But this arrogance is at the root of the problem, this comfort in the sense that a football player is all-powerful and able to say anything.

This week, in response to the Ray Rice case—or at least to the public-relations disaster that resulted from it—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell formed a four-woman committee on domestic violence and sexual assault. Part of their task will be about education.


Winston is apparently a perfect example of the type of player they need to address. He has not been found guilty of any assault or violence. He has not demonstrated any overt examples of any such behavior. What he shows is a thought process, a seed of a cultural thing among so many football players that needs to be rooted out. It's about what attitudes toward women are being taught through a lifetime in the sport.

That's going to be tough to change. It has something to do with the ego of football players, their need to be tough guys, and their views about the value of anyone whom they don't see as a tough guy.

Recurring stupidity is an issue, and it did cost Manziel some in the draft. But part of his problem was the strength of his arm. Winston is bigger than Manziel and has a stronger arm. In usual times—as in, before last week—this would go down as another example of boys being boys.

But the perception of Winston is changing, and an NFL team will have to decide whether it can entrust the job of being the face of a franchise to Winston. And that's a matter of not only his behavior, but also his growing public-relations baggage.

Winston apologized for the chant in a press conference, and said he has to "tone it down."

I don't know. That just sounds as though he thinks he has Manziel Disease.

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