Florida state attorney William Meggs announced Thursday afternoon that Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston would not face sexual assault charges related to an incident from last December, and as may be expected in a polarizing case involving one of the nation’s most prominent football players, the reactions were swift and, at times, pretty terrible.
They started before the press conference was even over and involved Meggs himself, who along with the media seemed to treat the sexual assault case as one hilarious joke. Meggs joked about whether the case was pressured by an upcoming Heisman Trophy vote or the ACC Championship game. He joked about the types of questions reporters were asking. He, a former state senator who was standing behind him, and the media, joked about everything there was to joke about. Deadspin has a full compilation of the laughing, but here’s one example:
Then there was the way NBC Sports Radio broke the news to its followers on Twitter (via Awful Announcing):
Rape, NBC Sports seems to think, is about as serious a challenge to Winston as the hapless defensive backs and linebackers who’ve been trying to stop him all year. On to the Heisman!
Moving on to Winston attorney Tim Jensen’s press conference, the reactions only got worse. First, to what is quite possibly the most absurd question asked in the history of absurd questions. A reporter actually asked Jensen whether he thought the accuser had any connections to the University of Alabama, which would make sense, you see, because Florida State and Alabama were until last week among the teams dueling for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Eliminate Winston with a bogus rape charge, let FSU lose, and bingo! Alabama’s primary competition (well, until Auburn beat them) would be eliminated from the race. Yes, that actually happened:
And then there was Jensen himself, who offered the most damaging critique of all of this. Responding to a question about the prevalence of sexual assault accusations against college athletes, this is what Jensen had to say:
“I was hearing someone say today about that, why are these athletes always committing these crimes. I think people need to realize these athletes are on campus. Sometimes there are people that target these athletes, look at them, oh, idolize them, and maybe they believe there’s more of a relationship. Sometimes the motive of accusers comes in to question.”
It wasn’t hard to predict that sort of reaction, but it’s still nonsense, because that isn’t what’s happening. Between 2 and 8 percent of rape cases are a result of false claims. That’s far fewer than the number of rapes that go unreported. It’s roughly in line, incidentally, with the number of cases that actually get prosecuted.
Winston’s accuser told the Associated Press that she was fearful that the outcome of her case, possibly aided as it was by a less-than-stellar investigation from Tallahassee police, would prevent other women who get raped from coming forward. Looking at the reactions to the Winston case, it’s easy to understand where those fears come from.