The XX Factor

The Undefeated’s Jameis Winston Profile Is Sports Journalism At Its Worst

Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcomes adversity at Raymond James Stadium on August 24, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. 

Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images

On Tuesday, ESPN’s The Undefeated published a feature by Alex Kennedy headlined “The Continued Maturation of Jameis Winston.” That story featured the following incredible sentence: “Winston’s off-field issues have been well-documented, from his shoplifting citation to the sexual-assault allegation for which he wasn’t charged.”

This is the only mention in the entire article that Winston, now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was accused of raping a fellow Florida State student in 2012. The rape accusation against Winston is given equal weight as shoplifting, with both “off-field issues” cited as bits of juvenile adversity that Winston had to overcome to become the man he is today. There is no discussion of the fact that, by their own admission, both Florida State and the Tallahassee police botched the investigation into the alleged rape.

The Undefeated profile, written by Alex Kennedy, reads as a glorified press release. It depicts the Buccaneers quarterback heroically volunteering at his teammate Louis Murphy’s football camp, where he “stayed for nearly seven hours”:

During that time, he ran the campers through stretches, conducted drills, timed 40-yard dashes and gave multiple inspirational speeches to the 400 children. To an onlooker, it might have seemed that this was Winston’s camp.

“It blew me away,” Murphy said with a laugh. “People were surprised, and I didn’t even expect him to be so involved. But he cares so much. He cares about the kids and this community.”

The piece goes on to describe Winston’s amazing work ethic, his off-season weight loss (18 pounds), and his on-field smarts (“I would rate his football IQ at 100 out of 100,” Murphy says).

Here’s a set of facts, courtesy of the Tallahassee Police Department, that the story didn’t mention:

    • The alleged victim had Winston’s semen in her underwear.

    • The alleged victim said she told her attacker to stop and tried to kick him off of her, but he he had her pinned down by her arms.

    • The alleged victim, crying hysterically, told her friend immediately after the alleged assault that she thought she had been raped.

    • Two of the alleged victim’s friends were so concerned that they called both the police and the woman’s parents.

    • A nurse who examined the alleged victim in the emergency room found bruises on her body.

Absent, too, was any discussion of the fact that the police did not contact Winston for two weeks after the alleged victim identified him on campus. Likewise, it failed to mention that it was nearly a year before police collected DNA from Winston. And it didn’t include that the school settled with the alleged victim for $950,000.

As Deadspin’s Tom Ley points out, this piece “was never meant to offer any critical analysis or frank discussion, but to gently remove words like ‘rape’ and ‘cover-up’ from conversations about Jameis Winston, and to replace them with ‘football IQ’ and ‘potential.’ ” This would have been a bad story even if it didn’t whitewash Winston’s “off-field issues.” There is nothing of value in a piece that praises a football player for losing weight and chatting up kids at a football camp. But this isn’t just a harmless puff piece. This is sports journalism at its worst—a writer and a publication treating a horrific criminal allegation as a short-term impediment to football glory. For The Undefeated, an alleged rape is an obstacle to be evaded, something on the order of a pesky pass rusher.