When Jameis Winston was selected as no. 1 overall NFL draft pick last Thursday, he tweeted a photo of himself posing with a plate of crab legs, a reminder of an alleged shoplifting incident which brought the player unwanted scrutiny over the past year.
The tweet was quickly removed, but in some ways the damage of the image was done. Critics of Winston seized on the act as further proof of his immaturity and recklessness – reigniting conversations about his character that have often overshadowed his virtually unassailable record on the field of play.
Winston is no longer just a promising college quarterback dogged by negative press about his off the field behavior. He is now the $25 million face of a franchise and arguably the mostly highly touted new player entering the NFL. Besides the backlash over his crab legs tweet, he faces a civil suit from a former Florida State University classmate who accused him of sexual assault in 2012, and with the topic of violence against women by male athletes being resurrected again due to renewed attention to Floyd Mayweather’s past exploits, criticism of Winston has re-intensified.
“Something horrible went wrong including a cover-up in Tallahassee,” msnbc’s Joe Scarborough claimed Monday in reference to the sexual assault allegations against Winston. “The NFL doesn’t care about rape charges or character if you look at what happened with Jameis Winston,” he added.
Winston was cleared of any wrongdoing by FSU last year and local authorities chose not to pursue criminal charges against him due to a lack of evidence. He has always maintained his innocence and the Buccaneers have backed him with their words and their money, which may be enough to help turn the page.
“The pattern of compartmentalization transitioning to disregard has already begun for Winston. Even before the draft, Nike had signed him to an endorsement deal. For months, Tampa Bay Bucs message boards have been filled with fans’ hopes of drafting Winston. One Bucs fan recently argued that in a few years the allegations will matter to public opinion as little as the dropped charges against [Kobe] Bryant,” wrote Jeremy Stahl in a recent column for Slate.
The one potential wild card for Winston is the campus rape documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” which is currently playing in select cities across the country. In that film, Winston’s accuser, Erica Kinsman, details her allegations against the quarterback in excruciating detail. FSU has condemned the film and Winston’s attorney has called Kinsman’s subsequent civil suit a “stunt” and a “ploy,” but clearly her story is not going away.
Only time will tell if the Bucs be able to help Winston avoid any more potential missteps. What is certain is the he is longer a prospect, he’s an investment, and one that could come back to haunt them.
“When you draft a quarterback, you’re not just picking a guy to help win football games. You’re picking a guy who’s going to sell merchandise, fill the stadium, and serve as an ambassador for your brand,” Stefan Lovelace, manager of sports marketing at IMRE, told msnbc ahead of the draft. ”Winston’s track record already makes him problematic in this role, and the microscope is on everything he does for this early part of his career.”
Winston has said he tweeted the crab legs as an homage to “Deadliest Catch” star Keith Colburn, who provided them as a gift. For his part, he told the Orlando Sentinel he “never expected” the negative publicity his actions received.
Looks like the Bucs will have to work on his anticipation off the field, as well as on it.