Ryan Black commentary: Time for Jameis Winston's off-field behavior to match athletic excellence

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMay 23, 2014 

Winston Churchill once referred to Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

If the former British prime minister was alive today, he could apply that phrase to another Winston: Jameis. The reigning Heisman Trophy is innately talented. No one doubts that. Whether he’s on the gridiron or the baseball diamond — where, starring as the Seminoles’ closer, he owns the lowest earned run average on the team this season (1.24) as of Thursday afternoon — he rarely makes a bad decision.

Why, then, does Winston find it so difficult to do the same when he’s not engaging in athletic pursuits?

By now, anyone with access to a television, computer or other medium that delivers news knows about his run-in at a Publix in Tallahassee, Florida, last month. He went into the supermarket and ordered $32.72 worth of seafood. Only the store never saw the money, as Winston took the food without paying. He was issued a citation, temporarily suspended from the baseball team (missing three games) and ordered to complete 20 hours of community service. Winston went on to call it a case of “youthful ignorance” and promised that he would “learn and grow from this unfortunate situation.”

If only his father felt the same way.

Instead of blaming his son, Antonor Winston fell on the sword himself — and took Florida State down with him.

“I think it should show the university and us, I think we probably kind of dropped the ball on that a little bit,” he told USA Today.

Winston’s father went on to say that the university should have someone around his son at all times.

“He’s a Heisman Trophy winner so (he's) definitely not supposed to be by (himself),” he said.

What an enabling culture we live in.

It’s not Winston’s fault he walked into a store and forgot to stop by a cash register before departing with his items.

How should he know that America is a capitalist society? How should he know about such concepts as supply-and-demand or that buying things requires money? Better yet, why should he even know the difference between right and wrong?

That’s for his father to teach him — or in his father’s mind, someone from the university who should be with his son at every waking moment, serving as the de facto decision-maker in every aspect of his life.

And maybe having a supervisor make every choice for him isn’t such a bad idea.

After all, the mind that has served Winston so well in his sporting endeavors has consistently misfired when forced to navigate mundane, everyday life.

The most notable example was the sexual assault case that hung over Winston after it became public in November. Though he was accused of rape by a fellow Florida State student, the state’s Second Judicial Circuit decided not to file charges, citing an inability to reach a “reasonable likelihood of conviction.” That announcement was made in December.

From there, Winston went on to win the Heisman in a landslide and helped Florida State defeat Auburn in the BCS national championship game.

All was quiet until April, when news of the seafood theft surfaced. With his community service done, Winston could finally move forward.

Well, not quite.

Thanks to TMZ, negativity is surrounding Winston once more. On Thursday, TMZ said it had obtained the recording of a call made from a Burger King in Tallahassee to a non-emergency police hotline on July 13 of last year. The call details four men — one being Winston — entering the restaurant, where they started to fill ketchup cups with soda without paying upfront. When the employee confronted them and said they were committing a crime, Winston allegedly said he “didn’t care.”

The case was dropped after the manager of the store decided not to press charges.

If the allegations are true, it marks the third time in less than a year Winston’s name came up in less-than-desirable circumstances.

Or to put it in the baseball parlance he’s familiar with: That’s three strikes. But he’s not anywhere close to being “out.” At this point, nothing much has come out of the three cases. One wasn’t brought to trial, the other was dropped and the third resulted in only a citation and a slew of Internet memes involving crab legs.

Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

Still, it’s a fair question: How long until Winston will make headlines for another boneheaded off-field indiscretion? Maybe after “Crabgate,” he’s learned his lesson. That’s what one would expect, anyway. But preventing similar problems from cropping up again isn’t mysterious, an enigma or a riddle. There’s no secret formula. And it certainly shouldn’t have to involve a handler monitoring Winston’s every move.

All it takes is Winston using the same pristine judgment he does when he has a football or baseball in his hand.

For a 20-year-old wise beyond his years athletically but seemingly feeling his way along in the game of life, developing some much-needed maturity would rank among his most impressive accomplishments.

To say that of someone who has already achieved so much at such a young age sounds crazy, sure. But give it some more thought and you’ll likely come to a startling realization.

It perfectly aligns with the paradoxical persona Winston has established for himself.

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