Attorney Demands Apology From Reporter Who Asked Jameis Winston About Sexual Assault Investigation


Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston led the Seminoles to an authoritative 45-7 win over Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night, stamping the ‘Noles ticket to the national championship game for the first time since 2001. Winston was brilliant, passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 59 yards and another score. It could have been enough to make a network focused on promoting a football game forget that until two days prior, Winston had been the subject of a (poorly handled) sexual assault investigation involving a female FSU student.

But ESPN reporter Heather Cox didn’t forget. Instead, she used her postgame interview with Winston to ask four questions about the investigation. Among the questions was how the investigation affected the team (it made them better, Winston said), what Winston learned from it (he needed to be more mature), and why he refused to talk to the Florida state attorney during the investigation. The final question led to Winston walking away from Cox, who was then the subject of backlash on Twitter from, chiefly, Winston’s attorney Tim Jansen.

Watch it, via SportsGeek:

Jansen mentioned Cox specifically and demanded an apology for her actions:

Over at SportsGrid, another sports web site, Eric Goldschein posed the question: Should Cox indeed apologize for the interview, as Jansen demanded?

The answer is no. Emphatically no. Why would you even ask that, no.

Winston is afforded his right not to talk to the state prosecutor if he doesn’t want to, but there’s nothing that says a reporter can’t ask him about it. And given that Winston hadn’t yet spoken publicly about the case (other than in a written statement), Cox was the first to get to talk to him. She had to ask him about the investigation, and that it was only moments after Florida State clinched the ACC title makes not a bit of difference in that equation. Cox handled the situation professionally, asking first about the game and then leading into the investigation by asking how it affected the team and preparation for the game. Winston himself handled the relatively mild questions well, and Cox’s third question, about what Winston learned from the entire case, was a novel inquiry that earned a solid answer. The fourth, about why Winston didn’t talk to prosecutors, may have been a bit much, not because it was offensive or inappropriate but because the result — Winston shutting up and walking away — was predictable, maybe even inevitable.

That is good reporting, and none of it is worthy of “a note to Jameis and his family to apologize,” which amounts to little more than a juvenile request from an attorney who had already had his own poor showing on national TV earlier in the week. It warrants no apology especially because, according to Cox, she and ESPN had told FSU officials and head coach Jimbo Fisher that she would ask about the investigation should she get a chance to talk to the quarterback. None of the questions were accusatory. None of them were unprofessional. None of them were anywhere near out of line.

There’s been a lot of talk this year about the utility of sideline reporters at football games, and maybe this incident is indicative of the problem: if it’s this much of a shock when a sideline reporter asks real questions instead of fluffy nonsense aimed at generating more fluffy nonsense, perhaps our standards for sideline reporters have fallen even farther than previously thought.

Winston’s on-field performance this season has been remarkable and Heisman Trophy-worthy. Because that’s what college football fans seem to care about most, there will be plenty of time to celebrate both it and FSU’s success. But this weekend — especially this weekend — the sexual assault case was major news, and the biggest thing Cox could have done to merit an apology was pretend it didn’t exist at all.