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.”