A Reality of Their Own: Jameis Winston, Rape and Seminole Fandom at Florida State

A Reality of Their Own: Jameis Winston, Rape and Seminole Fandom at Florida State

A Reality of Their Own: Jameis Winston, Rape and Seminole Fandom at Florida State

Florida State administrators and football fans are involved in a dangerous, highly lucrative exercise in creating their own reality about sexual assault.


Before every Florida State Seminoles home game, mascot Chief Osceola rides out on his horse and throws a flaming spear, to the delight of fans. Never mind that the real Chief Osceola did not ride a horse into battle (leading the second Seminole war in the swampy Everglades was not an equestrian pursuit). But in Tallahassee, when it comes to the football program, reality is what you say it is to keep the trains stuffed with cash running on time. Seminole tribal leaders in Florida are paid handsomely to not care that Oklahoma’s Seminole tribal councils find the mascoting of their tribe disgusting and have called for it to be changed. They are paid to not notice that overwhelmingly white fans wear war paint to games, do the tomahawk chop and hold up signs calling for players to “scalp” their opponents. Similarly, we are now supposed to believe that star quarterback Jameis Winston is a model citizen, wrongly accused of sexual assault because the school’s “code of conduct” kangaroo court cleared him of any wrong doing. In fact, local columnists believe it is time to “give Winston and FSU a break.”

No one other than Winston, his accuser, and several of Winston’s teammates—who were present at the alleged assault—know whether the Florida State quarterback is a rapist. But we now know enough to be appalled by how Florida State University and the city of Tallahassee handled this entire ordeal. We know that police refused to investigate the original accusation of rape for months and that the school did not interview Winston about the incident for over a year. We know that the police—eventually pressured by the press into investigating the incident—had financial ties as security workers for the Seminole Boosters club. We know that Jameis Winston did not testify at his own student conduct hearing to defend his own innocence except by issuing an appalling written statement where he called the accuser a liar, violated her confidentiality by stating her name repeatedly and posited that this was all happening because she was miffed that his door kept swinging open while they were having sex.

We also now know that Winston did finally talk in his student hearing after being cornered by retired Judge Major Harding. Harding turned directly to Winston and asked, “In what manner, verbally or physically” did he believe his accuser actually consented to sex? Winston’s lawyer’s said that their client did not have to respond, but Winston could not resist. The Heisman trophy winner said that his accuser supplied consent not by any affirmative statement but by “moaning.” Meanwhile his accuser testified, “I remember being raped.… I remember pleading with him to stop clearly.… I remember one of his friends telling him to stop and saying, ‘She is saying no clearly’…. I tried to struggle and resist him.” A victim’s advocate who met with the accuser the next day also testified that her mental state was consistent with someone suffering from the post-traumatic stress of a sexual assault.

Judge Harding said that the evidence was “insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof.” But the hearing itself, as Jessica Luther at Vice Sports broke down, was a bumbling, incompetent exercise in jurisprudence. The hearing’s legitimacy, or lack thereof, can be seen in the fact that his teammates who were witnesses that night—defensive end Chris Casher and defensive back Ronald Darb—were allowed to refuse to answer questions. As Juliet Macur of The New York Times wrote, “Some would call their silence obstructing justice. In Tallahassee, though, it’s probably called teamwork.”

This teamwork is also seen online, where hordes of #FSUtwitter fans have been quick to disseminate the name of Winston’s accuser and attack any journalist, particularly female journalists, who would dare raise a stink about how this investigation was run. This process, and the kind of people who take part in it, was exposed last week when ESPN contributor Molly Knight received a tweet from a man named @d_cochran who said that she “might cry rape too you willing slut.” ESPN’s Michelle Beadle did a quick investigation into Mr. Cochran and found that he was a child molester and registered sex offender in the state of Florida. He quickly deleted his primary twitter account, and now is probably issuing his college football picks and rape threats through an egg avatar.

This child molesting FSU fan was being a foot soldier in a war with billions of dollars at stake. It’s a war that coaches, Florida State officials and police officers fight every day: the war to discipline the media from reporting what an incestuous cesspool Tallahassee law enforcement and Florida State football have become. They are one team, organized from the police station to social media, to make everyone #fearthespear.

This “teamwork” pays dividends. Two days after Judge Harding “cleared” Winston, his coach Jimbo Fisher signed an eight-year contract extension with a raise that will put his salary at well over $5 million a year. This is what the multibillion-dollar business of college football has produced. Conferences make billions. Coaches make millions. And players don’t see a penny, trapped in the highly racialized institution of revenue-producing amateurism. But players at places like Florida State—and make no mistake, this is not just a Tallahassee issue—can be paid through the NCAA’s gutter economy of being allowed to live a college life without off-field rules, without a student code of conduct, and without consequence.

Now Seminole Nation gets gear up for the inaugural college football playoff, living in their own reality where justice was done and the unbeaten star quarterback gets to lead his team. All is good in Tallahassee, a world where those with erasers write the history… and where Osceola rode a damn horse.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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