Thoughts on Florida State's Jameis Winston after crab-gate

Streeter Lecka

I have some scatterbrained thoughts on Jameis Winston following his avoiding arrest and instead receiving a civil citation for the misdemeanor shoplifting incident involving crab legs from Publix.

An honest mistake?

I think it's important to note that there is indeed another version out there, as told by Jeff Cameron of ESPN's 979.9 Radio (audio). Cameron seems very confident that this version is what happened, and indicates that he has spoken with someone who has seen the video surveillance.

This version is important because it indicates that Winston's unique celebrity status in a town like Tallahassee contributed to him forgetting to pay for the crab.

Essentially, Cameron says that Winston, with his long-distance girlfriend in town, went to get some wings and crab legs. He went to Publix, ordered the crab legs, then left to go to Hobbit Hoagies for wings (down the road, which he paid for), then came back to Publix, with the car running in the rain to grab the crab legs. He got some butter, and the crab legs, and was mobbed for autographs by fans in the Publix (this is not uncommon around town as Winston is a huge celebrity). Cameron notes that Winston was mistaken in thinking he could quickly go in and out of any place in Tallahassee without signing autographs and taking pictures.

Winston signs autographs, takes pictures, gets distracted, puts the butter down in doing so, picks up the crab legs, and calmly walks out of Publix talking to a police officer, crab in hand, not trying to hide anything. When he gets home,  he realizes he didn't get the butter for his crab legs, and realizes he didn't pay for the crab legs. He doesn't go back to pay for them, and admitted as much. If Winston were trying to shoplift, he probably doesn't walk out, crab legs in hand, talking with a police officer. It's possible, but unlikely.

It's worth noting that Publix was close to closing time, the weather in Tallahassee Tuesday night was nasty (raining a bunch), and that Winston's girlfriend, whom he does not get to see all that often, was in town. Those aren't necessarily excuses for not going back, but are perhaps reasons why someone in a similar situation wouldn't choose to go back to the store that night.

We do not know if Winston would have ever gone back to pay for the crab legs if given the chance.

And we do not know if Winston has previously had this happen and not been punished for it. It is perhaps curious why Publix would be insistent on sending LCSO over to Winston's apartment after midnight.

Would you go back that night?

I have a story to share. On Saturday, I was in D.C. and got up very early to print out some rosters for a recruiting camp I was covering in the area. In doing so, I grabbed coffee from the lobby, intending to pay ($3) for it as I checked out. But I got distracted as the printers set up for hotel guests to use were not working. I ended up having to use the printer behind another guest relations counter, and in that distraction and annoyance of having so much trouble getting the rosters printed out, I forgot to pay for the coffee.

I realized I had not paid for the coffee once a colleague of mine noted that I had not brought coffee for others. I was on the way to the camp, and did not have time to turn back around and return to pay for the coffee. Nor did I have time to come back and pay, as the hotel was out of the way and I had to turn in my rental car, upload videos and reports, and get on my way to New York for the next camp via train the next morning.

In light of the Winston ordeal, I've considered sending a check to my hotel once I return home from this road trip. Our stories are similar in that, if you believe the stories, we were distracted from our original intent of paying for the item. His item is bigger and of more value, but it's still not much.

I'd like to think that if I were in Winston's shoes, I would return to pay for the crab legs.

When, however, is another matter. I am really not sure that with very little time before the store closes, on a rainy night, trying to eat dinner and with my long-distance girlfriend in town that I'd go back and do it that night, interrupting my dinner.

Would you?

I'd like to know in the comment section.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter because...

We are not Jameis Winston

We did not just weather a very public ordeal in which we were accused of sexual assault.

We don't get mobbed for autographs and photos at Publix. Heck, we can go out to dinner for a nice, normal meal at a restaurant -- something Winston's celebrity status precludes in Tallahassee.

Very few people reading this have any idea of what it is like to live the sort of life Winston lives in Tallahassee. He is incapable of having a normal day, of going into a store without people tweeting about what he is buying, taking Instagram photos of or with him, etc. Every time he leaves his apartment or the football facility, he is in the spotlight. His existence is far different than that of a normal star player. There are few who can relate to what he goes through in terms of distractions and scrutiny. Tim Tebow was slightly before the crazy era of social media, but Johnny Manziel might be close. Winston's situation six months ago has probably vaulted him to a level of unprecedented celebrity for a college player.

Certainly, there are many perks of Winston's existence in Tallahassee, but the distractions he has on a daily basis are very real, and his life is hectic. It can be difficult for those of us not in his position to understand.

Managing his image

Most of us also do not have every part of our lives scrutinized like Winston. It comes with the territory. And because of that, Winston does have to be careful in how he manages his image. He needs to stay out of the spotlight for anything off the field, because he will not receive the benefit of the doubt.  He needs to really have a keen awareness and respect for the personal property of others. He has to realize that if he does something that makes someone mad, or involves their personal property (shooting a window with a BB gun, or taking an ounce of soda in a ketchup cup at a Burger King, allegedly, for instance), it very well could end up being blown out of proportion and getting on the news.

Without even so much as being arrested, Winston's image has taken a hit in recent months. Many don't care about the large amount of physical evidence amassed against the sexual assault accuser's claims that caused the State's Attorney to not pursue charges. They don't care that he was not charged in an alleged BB gun battle, or that he wasn't charged for allegedly putting soda in a ketchup cup at Burger King.

Yes, it is ridiculous that some of these things are even being mentioned, but it only goes to show the level of scrutiny that Winston faces on a daily basis. Every move and quote is analyzed. Rightly or (more likely) wrongly, Winston's image has taken a big, disproportionate hit.

And that hit is in spite of his gregarious, smiling, class-clown attitude that has probably allowed him to get away with more than a player from similar circumstances otherwise would have. Now, all eyes are on him.

And given that level of scrutiny, Winston has to really err on the side of caution in his daily life if he is to rehab his image. As Andy Staples notes in this well-done article for Sports Illustrated, it is disturbing that Winston somehow didn't consider that something like this could have blown up as it did, and act to rectify it that night and avoid the ultimate fallout.

A normal person may not have been mobbed for autographs and photos, and may not have had to go back that night, but Winston is not a normal person.

Sponsorships

He has to be squeaky clean in his final year (or two or three years if you really believe he wants to put up with this nonsense and not get paid for it for a minute longer than he has to) to maximize his value to sponsors.

Because that is the area in which these minor things most impact Winston: sponsorship and endorsement deals.

Florida State has a policy to handle felony criminal acts: If the player is charged with a felony, he cannot play until the matter has been resolved. With small or non-criminal stuff, it can use its discretion. And I think Florida State football would (and should) handle it just like the NFL would: by playing him. His suspension from baseball is another matter entirely, and is perhaps overkill if his story is true. It feels like the school reacting because that is what the public believes it should do, given this and other very public circumstances, some of which are ongoing.

This incident did not hurt Winston's draft stock, regardless of what some click-baity, trolling analysts want you to believe. Players who can play at a high level will be drafted high and will be on the field.

But sponsors offering potential endorsement deals care less about what a player actually is, and more about what the public thinks of the star. There is a lot of USA Today columnist Dan Wolken's column with which I do not agree, but he really nails the part about sponsorships.

One of the biggest arguments against paying college athletes, or at least allowing them to pursue endorsement deals, is that they are not mature enough to handle the money and everything that comes with it.

But those people have it exactly wrong. True responsibility brings real consequences, and football powers like Florida State usually have too much to lose to deal with the latter.

Peyton Manning makes a ton from sponsorships. Ben Roethlisberger makes far less. If Winston keeps getting involved in very public incidents, he will lose some potential endorsement deals.

Etc.

- How much does all of the public scrutiny weigh on Winston? Will it impact his play? I wonder how much stress he is under.

- How much does/can FSU help Winston in getting him to understand his level of celebrity, its implications, and how to deal with it?

- This is a good opportunity to filter out idiots from Twitter and Facebook who would suggest that this incident is in any way related to the alleged sexual assault incident for which he was not charged.

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