Superstar Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston's decision to enter this year's NFL draft on Wednesday may be overshadowed by a federal lawsuit filed by a woman who has accused him of rape.
Winston, who is widely seen as a contender for the No. 1 overall selection in the draft, was recently cleared by an independent arbiter of any wrongdoing in an internal FSU investigation of the case, but there have been reports alleging that investigators gave Winston preferential treatment because of his status as an elite college star. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old has never been charged with a crime in connection with the case.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Winston's accuser is suing FSU for violating her Title IX rights by allegedly failing to investigate her claims properly. The alleged sexual assault took place in 2012 at Winston's off-campus apartment. The FSU quarterback has consistently maintained that his encounter with the alleged victim was consensual.
“Had FSU ... instead complied with its own policies and federal law by promptly investigating plaintiff’s rape and sanctioning Winston while protecting plaintiff’s safety, Winston would have been removed as a threat to plaintiff long before ever suiting up to play football in a Seminoles jersey, and plaintiff would be on campus progressing toward an FSU degree,” the complaint says. “Instead, plaintiff was forced to leave campus while Winston remains, having suffered no consequences.”
The victim, identified in the complaint as Jane Doe, has detailed a harrowing alleged encounter with Winston which resulted in her being allegedly dropped off at her doorstep the following day and tweeting "SOMEONE HELP ME." The ensuing investigation, led by the Tallahassee Police Department, has been widely criticized, but the complaint filed Wednesday holds the FSU Athletics Department responsible for failing to immediately report to incident to the school's administration. The allegation became public in November 2013.
“FSU became a sexually hostile environment where her rapist roamed free and could turn up at any moment, where she became the target of death threats and vilification campaigns,” the complaint states.
FSU President John Thrasher told msnbc he was "disappointed" by the lawsuit in an official statement.
"After a year of selective news leaks and distorted coverage, Florida State looks forward to addressing these meritless allegations in court. Evidence will show that through its confidential Victim Advocate Program, FSU did everything the plaintiff asked for and that the assertions FSU shirked its Title IX obligations are false," Thrasher said.
Thrasher says that FSU requested a statement from the accuser and her attorneys at least nine times over 20 months that would have enabled a Title IX investigation but did not receive a response. "FSU’s handling of this matter was driven by the plaintiff’s deliberate and informed choice on how to proceed, not by Athletics," he said.
The rape accusation is just the most prominent of a handful of off-the-field incidents that have tarnished Winston's sterling reputation as an athlete. Last May he was accused of shoplifting $32 worth of crab legs from a local supermarket. A Florida-based Burger King also reported that Winston stole soda without paying for it in July 2013. He was also questioned over his involvement in what has been described as a BB gun fight that reportedly left 13 broken windows at an apartment complex near the Seminoles’ Doak Campbell Stadium. Last fall, Winston was suspended for half a game for standing on a campus cafeteria table and shouting out a crude remark which was part of an enduring Internet meme.
Still, despite suffering the first defeat of his college career in this month's Rose Bowl game, Winston is seen by most sports analysts as the most NFL-ready quarterback entering this year's draft. However, many experts cite his off-the-field drama as a serious drawback.
"The cons about Jameis Winston are, what are you getting with maturity and with the individual off the field? Can he stay out of trouble? And can he handle himself in a manner where you feel comfortable giving him $25 million or $30 million and tagging him from day 1 as the face of your franchise?" said ESPN's Todd McShay during a network conference call. "It's hard, man. I don't know the answer right now."