At 18-years-old, a boy becomes a man. He is able to join the United States military and should be old enough and responsible enough to begin his new life. Yes, 18-years-of-age is still a young man, but if an 18-year-old can go away to an NCAA college or off to war, then he should be responsible enough to grow up and act responsibly. Lately, universities have gotten into the habit of making childish behavior acceptable by holding the baby soft hands of big tough athletes. They are holding hands, but are failing to hold young athletes responsible for their foolish and sometimes despicable actions. Treating young men like children has become like an epidemic that is sweeping college campuses, and it is something that universities must bring to an end.
Star football player and the winner of the 2013 NCAA Heisman Trophy, Jameis Winston, was recently caught stealing $32.72 worth of crab legs and crawfish. It was a story that made headlines and again saw Winston in the media spotlight. It was a story that could be seen as funny, sad, and disappointing all at the same time. Once the image of a grown man stealing crab legs vanished, the reality set in. The report created a media buzz and provided a golden opportunity for anyone with the most rudimentary Photoshop skills to take jabs and gain some laughs. In addition to the crab-clenching images, witty writers were given an opportunity to use every shellfish play-on-word reference known to man. It became a running joke, but once the joking subsided, few questioned the consequences. He committed a crime and was suspended from the baseball team (he is a two-sport athlete) for three games. A minor slap on the wrist, especially considering that he is a pitcher and most likely would have only pitched in one of those games. Winston served his three game suspension, and again the story mostly disappeared. However, this was not the first run-in that Winston has had with law enforcement.
On December 7, 2012 a young woman was allegedly raped. Jameis Winston was identified by his accuser. Then there was the admission by William N. Meggs, the prosecutor in the case, that due to a number of shortcomings and the failure of the police to follow up on a series of leads, there was not enough evidence to prosecute. The case was dropped, and the string of events that sprang into the national headlines came to an abrupt close. Winston won the Heisman, Florida State won the National Championship, and everything was quickly forgotten.
However, a federal investigation that has recently been opened could toss Jameis Winston back into hot water. The investigation is seeking more information into the handling of sexual assaults by the university. The administration at Florida State University has admitted that they were well aware of the investigation as early as January of 2013, and still chose to do nothing about Winston’s status as a member of the Seminoles football team. He was coddled, the issue was pushed aside, and both the police and the university have admitted to flaws. Yet, more than a year later the star athlete continues to be placed high up on a pedestal. Rape allegations and a theft case do not appear to be slowing down Winston or the Seminoles, and when football season starts this fall, there is little doubt that Winston will be the king of Tallahassee while all of his past actions will have been swept under the lush green turf at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Recently, the father of Winston made a statement that his son should have someone around him 24/7, which seems like an odd request, given the fact that his son is 20-years-old. If Winston’s father and the university find that it is imperative that someone follow his son’s every move to make sure that he is on his best behavior, then there is a whole extra set of trust issues. Antonor Winston, Jameis’ father said “He’s a Heisman Trophy winner so (he’s) definitely not supposed to be by (himself).” Perhaps it is time for Jameis, his father and the university to all take a step back, look at the birth certificate that says that this person was born in 1994, which means that he is a 20-year-old man. If universities continue to treat their students and athletes like children, chances are that they will behave exactly in that way.
This alternate universe where college and professional athletes have reached “god-like” status is not only out of control, it is something that is changing the way future generations will view success. If a simple slap on the wrist for things like theft, sexual assault allegations and any other school violation becomes the norm, it then becomes viewed as acceptable behavior. If a star player cannot control himself and makes immoral decisions that could possibly taint the image of the university, then these schools may begin to face stiff questioning from the student body and others associated with the school. Simply assigning handlers when they should be implementing alternative solutions like further counsel and educating these young men on how to be productive in society seems to be the main issue. Universities cannot and should not always be held responsible for the actions of their student-athletes or individual students in general, but coddling them and shoving a pacifier down their throats while they attend a couple of classes and wipe their behinds after they throw lots of touchdown passes may not be the answer.
Some may point to the NFL as evidence that athletes are held to different standards following criminal cases. Just one look at the number of arrests by players in the NFL since the year 2000 will yield hundreds of results, as the list now eclipses more than 700 men. A quick scan down the list will show everything from DUI, assault, domestic abuse, drug possession, and first-degree murder. For the most part, nothing was ever done to most of the offenders, other than a faint slap on the wrist. It is commonly believed and understood that committing a crime will not jeopardize their career. Usually, they get fined, perhaps receive a short suspension and then they return to the field as the billion dollar professional sport industry continues to move forward.
The University of Oregon basketball team just took a hard stance against three of their players, dismissing them from the team after they were mentioned in a rape investigation. The police report that covers the disturbing details revolving around the investigation has some questioning why these men were even allowed onto a college campus. One of the men listed in the report is Brandon Austin, a transfer from Providence who had already been questioned in another sexual assault case before his transfer to the Ducks basketball team. The University of Oregon made a solid and firm decision to kick all three players off the team, but their failure to investigate an “incident” that occurred prior to bringing Austin to an NCAA college campus will continue to raise some eyebrows. If a player is being investigated, schools may be forced to take an even stronger stand. While investigations are taking place, universities may need to dive deeper into the issue. Tougher questions may need to be asked instead of what is viewed as the avoidance of receiving the real and sometimes not so popular answers.
It is a money grab for many universities, and they clearly understand the importance of a Heisman Trophy winner, or an All-American athlete. Until schools stop treating these star athletes like children, they can look forward to seeing behavior of individuals worsen over time. Right now there are no limits, and the aura of untouchability that surrounds these players have become nearly more powerful than the institutions themselves. If a professional sports team wants to baby their players, so be it, but while they are playing on the campus of an NCAA college institution, universities may want to let up on the hand holding, and work harder on becoming moulders of men.
Commentary by Johnny Caito