Jameis Winston couldn’t be any more perfect on the football field.
During his college career at Florida State, he’s won every game he’s played, led the Seminoles to a national championship and became the youngest player by age to ever win the Heisman Trophy. He can throw. He can run. He can lead.
Off the field?
Not so much.
As Florida State prepares to face Oklahoma State at a stadium in which many predict the Seminoles will return for the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game, all eyes are on Winston. People want to see what he does this season — and not just when he’s got on his shoulder pads.
No player in college football is more polarizing.
A few weeks back, Florida State launched an “Ask Jameis” campaign on Twitter. The school’s PR folks thought it would be a good way for fans to interact with the best player in college football, but most folks saw it as open season on Winston.
It was such a disaster that Florida State put a kibosh on the whole thing.
To think that it’s been less than a year since the college football world loved Winston. Then a redshirt freshman, he burst onto the scene with an amazing 356-yard, four-touchdown debut.
One web headline: “Winston is the anti-Manziel”.
With college football growing weary of Texas A&M quarterback and defending Heisman winner Johnny Manziel’s antics, the accompanying story predicted that “there’s little fear that the ‘Famous Jameis’ persona will become bigger than Winston, the football player” and that “he vowed not to get ‘Manziel Disease’”.
Those were the days of glowing adjectives for Winston. Personable. Goofy. Likeable. Fresh. Humble. Exciting. Grounded.
Easy to root for.
Those sure aren’t words often associated with Winston anymore.
His public persona began to change when allegations of sexual assault surfaced late last season. The incident had occurred almost a year before, in December 2012, but the police in Tallahassee were still investigating. Ultimately, no charges were filed, but the fallout has been troubling.
The Tallahassee police department has come under searing scrutiny for how it handled the investigation.
Ditto for Florida State.
The school is required under federal law to investigate any time there is an alleged sexual assault involving a student. Because it did not follow protocols, the Department of Education launched a full-blown investigation that is still ongoing.
A New York Times investigation earlier this year revealed that essentially no one investigated the rape allegations against Winston. Not the police. Not the school.
Amid the media coverage of the sexual assault allegations against Winston, other run-ins with the law were uncovered.
Not long after Winston arrived on the Florida State campus, police were called to a Burger King in Tallahassee. Winston was stealing soda and being disruptive.
No charges were filed.
Several months later, while Winston was redshirting, police questioned him and several other football players after more than a dozen windows were broken at an apartment complex near the campus. The players were having a BB gun battle.
No charges were filed.
Then, of course, came the infamous crab leg incident in April. Winston walked into a supermarket in Tallahassee and walked out with some seafood for which he hadn’t paid.
He was issued a citation and made restitution.
The sexual assault allegation notwithstanding, the rest of these incidents are fairly small potatoes. Shenanigans. Hijinks. Stuff that any college student might do.
Still, in less than two years, Winston was involved in four situations where police were called. That’s significant.
And considering one of those calls was because of an alleged sexual assault, it’s even more significant.
All of this has created a huge dichotomy. Winston, who’s all of 20 years old, is extremely likeable when he’s in uniform. He plays with a big ol’ smile on his face. He knocks you on your keister, then is first to reach down and offer a hand to help you up.
Ask people around Tallahassee about Winston, and they’re quick to say how he signs every autograph and takes every photo. There are pictures of Winston dancing with kids and smiling with fans during Heisman weekend last December.
But still, it’s impossible to look at Winston and not think about some of the details of those run-ins with the law.
Bleacher Report recently talked to a woman who was the assistant manager at the Burger King where Winston was allegedly stealing soda. She said that he reached behind the counter and took a cup, and when she told him that he couldn’t do that, he raised his voice at her.
“Do you know who I am?” she remembered him saying. “I’m a five-star recruit from Alabama. You want my autograph?”
Her recollection was collaborated by a co-worker also interviewed by Bleacher Report.
Do you know who I am?
What kind of person says something like that?
Then, there is the 911 call to Florida State’s police department by a friend of the alleged victim in the sexual assault case.
Friend: She says that she’s hurt. She got hit.
Police: She got hit? Does she know what she got hit with?
Friend: No, she says she kept, like blacking out. Like she only remembers pieces. She keeps trying to tell me the story, but it’s very in pieces.
Police: OK, do you know where she was hit at?
Friend: She says she thinks she was hit in the back of the head, and then she ended up in somebody’s room.
Those feel-good vibes about Winston evaporate in the shadow of these off-field incidents. It feels like that good guy superhero is masking a dark side. It feels like he’s two different characters.
Who is he really?
We don’t know. We may never know.
At least with a guy like Johnny Manziel, we had a pretty good idea what he was about. He’d party. He’d live large. He’d flash the show-me-the-money sign. He was that guy on or off the field.
But Jameis Winston isn’t nearly so easily figured out. Pristine on the field. Blemished off of it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.