The Heisman Trophy is no joke, and neither is an accusation of rape


Florida state attorney Willie Meggs announces his office will not press charges against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

In athletics, the scale of good and bad press conferences ranges from “Wow, we just won the [insert name of contest here]!” to “I take drugs to enhance my performance.” Summoning the press to discuss allegations of sexual assault skews toward the latter category.

So why did Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs’ announcement not to pursue charges against Jameis Winston have the feel of a victory celebration?

After months of investigating a claim by a 19-year-old Florida State University student that the school’s quarterback sexually assaulted her on Dec. 7, 2012, Meggs declared that there wasn’t enough evidence to go forward with the case. An attorney for Winston, who also is a front runner for this year’s Heisman Trophy, said the sexual encounter in an off-campus apartment was consensual.

Although Meggs announced his decision with a straight face, further questions about the investigation gave way to more jocular answers and chuckles from both sides of the microphones.

“Was there a sexual assault?” a reporter asked earnestly.

“That’s kind of why we’re here,” Meggs said, then laughed before adding, “You ask kind of convoluted questions.”

At another point, Meggs was asked if his decision was rushed in order to wrap up the case before Monday’s deadline for the Heisman voting.

“When are they doing that?” he asked, drawing laughter from reporters and other officials present. “Whenever they were doing it, there was no pressure.”

With the long-awaited decision now over, Winston and FSU are moving on to Saturday’s game against Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Meanwhile, the attorney for the alleged victim said in a statement that the woman and her family “appreciate the State Attorney’s efforts.”

But others who watched Thursday announcement were critical of the tone.

Excluding the parties involved, no one knows exactly what happened that night. To joke about that uncertainty is like laughing at a punchline before you’ve heard the setup. When an impartial party like Meggs is brought in to assess a possible crime, both sides should be treated with fairness and respect. In this case it appears that one side was shorted.

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.

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