“Five shirtless dudes are running through downtown Tallahassee in front of courthouse spelling JAMEIS on their chests.”—Tweet from USA Today Sports Reporter Dan Wolken
Ten takeaways from news that Florida State’s star quarterback, and shoe-in Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston will not be charged with rape after a year-long investigation:
1) This country has a long and ugly history of accusing African-American men of rapes that did not occur. From the lynch mobs of the Old South, to the legal lynchings of the Scottsboro Boys and the defendants in the Central Park Jogger case, to countless stories we will never know, this has been a scar on the history of the United States. Black men have been repeatedly targeted and seen their lives destroyed by accusations that splice the horror of sexual violence and the stereotype of the ravenous predator.
2) This country also has a more recent history of allowing athletes, particularly star athletes, particularly amateur athletes compensated with status, hero worship and entitlement, to get away with rape.
3) This country has an even more recent history in the Internet age of destroying women on social media and threatening their families, if they dare bring forward any accusations of rape against athletes.
4) College football culture will place a black man on a pedestal as long as he can deliver bragging rights, championships and millions of dollars in revenue to small-town colleges and universities. Off the football field, or after your playing career ends, good luck. If Florida’s system of criminal justice has sent any discernable message this past year, it is this: if you are an African-American teenager, you want to be Jameis Winston, not Trayvon Martin.
5) I do not have the slightest idea what happened between Jameis Winston and his accuser. I do know that the statement from this woman’s family could not be more correct: “The victim has grave concerns that her experience, as it unfolded in the public eye and through social media, will discourage other victims of rape from coming forward and reporting.”
6) If it is proven true that a local police detective said to the accuser’s lawyer that Tallahassee is “a big football town, and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable,” then we can only hope that the family will pursue charges against the Tallahassee police department and sue them back to the Stone Age.
7) There are too many cases of too many women who are intimidated to come forward and pursue charges of sexual assault. There are too many cases where jock culture and rape culture are so intertwined you don’t know where one ends and the other begins.
8) There are too many cases where sports fans believe defending your team means destroying any young woman who dares stand up and try to speak about what happened. Seriously, if you are one of these people, get a life.
9) There are too many sports reporters, overwhelmingly men, that believe the myth that there are just lines of women trying to bring false rape charges against star athletes.
10) No matter the result, the Jameis Winston case has become yet another instance where the sports environment sends a message to women that if you are sexually assaulted, your best course of action is silence. That, above all else, must change.
Dave Zirin looks at how jock culture can support rape culture.