I really like sports. Yay sports! Specifically, Ohio State sports. Yay Ohio State sports!
Here's what I like even more than that: justice for the people that deserve it.
The New York Times recently ran an article about the botched investigation into Jameis Winston's alleged sexual assault. If you care, even one tiny bit, about the rights of people to be heard and fairly protected by the institutions of this country, then said article will make you really, really angry.
This isn't so much a sports story as it is a cultural story; people like Jameis Winston beat charges for a whole host of reasons. Wealth, popularity, simply knowing a dude, whatever, leads to a miscarriages of justice on a regular basis. But what's important is that we, as sports fans, don't allow ourselves to become complicit in a system that venerates and lauds people to the point of excusing behavior. And that's the part of the NYTimes expose that I'd like to address today. To wit:
Records show that Florida State’s athletic department knew about the rape accusation early on, in January 2013, when the assistant athletic director called the police to inquire about the case. Even so, the university did nothing about it, allowing Mr. Winston to play the full season without having to answer any questions. After the championship game, in January 2014, university officials asked Mr. Winston to discuss the case, but he declined on advice of his lawyer.
As the article points out, this isn't just disgusting, it's in direct violation of federal law (the same kind of laws that Penn State violated in their efforts to ignore Jerry Sandusky). This is also a troubling indicator of a trend that becomes more apparent as the article goes on.
The article talks at length about the overall handling of the investigation, which was more clown show than Law and Order. The lead detective didn't do due diligence in collecting evidence, as brusque with the accuser, and overall appeared to do a sloppy job. This, however, is the most damning aspect of it all:
With Mr. Winston identified, the next logical step would have been to quickly obtain his DNA. Officer Angulo decided against it. Ms. Carroll, the accuser’s lawyer, said the officer told her that testing Mr. Winston’s DNA might generate publicity. “I specifically asked and he refused,” Ms. Carroll said.
This is what the accused getting more protection than a possible victim looks like. We can bring up examples like the Duke Lacrosse case ad infinitum to try and point out why "innocent until proven guilty" is important, and it is, but that should not allow anyone to get in the way of due process.
And frankly, we as sports fans can't get in the way either. During the lead up to this investigation, the alleged victim was mocked on Florida State message boards, accused of being a gold digger seeking either fame or money. It's the same tired old accusations made by Penn State fans on their message boards, and it's the same kind of things that people were saying in Steubenville in 2012.
Here's really my only point, and one I don't want to belabor:
I feel that as a writer with a semi-large reach, I have a duty to be as fair and even-handed as I can be. If I see or hear about an Ohio State football player or coach doing something that I view to be morally wrong, it's my responsibility to talk about it honestly. As a human being, it's my responsibility to talk about it honestly.
That's why comments like this one are so frustrating:
“I learned quickly what football meant in the South,” said Mr. Ruiz, who grew up in New York State. “Clearly, it meant a lot. And with respect to this case I learned that keeping players on the field was a priority.”
The unspoken message there is that the greater Tallahassee community has their priorities wrong when it comes to sports. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that I would rather see The Ohio State University ban all varsity sports forever, than for our collective love of sports to allow one Buckeye to get away with a crime on the magnitude of sexual assault.
I will say this: I think that Ohio State is much better equipped than most large fanbases to be on the right side of life. Time and time again we've shown that the integrity of the program is more important than any one person, and I love that. As much as it has ripped my guts out on more than one occasion, and as oftentimes has been an overbearing response to small infractions, I love that.
So we have the choice, as people, to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen here. We can agree that our priorities are to make sure that potential victims are protected above all else, and to make sure that justice is done, no matter what path that takes. That doesn't prevent us from being Ohio State fans; if anything, if makes it easier because we'll know that we made the right choice.