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Jameis Winston’s new explanation for crab legs theft could cause problems for Florida State

Jameis Winston now says he was told he could take food from a supermarket for free. (Doug McSchooler/AP Photo)
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Jameis Winston didn’t steal the crab legs after all, he finally admitted this week, he just got them for free. But there’s a chance the Heisman Trophy winner’s decision to tell his full side of the story could cause headaches for his former school.

In an episode of ESPN’s “Draft Academy” that aired Tuesday night, Winston gave a different explanation for his alleged theft of $32 of crab legs and crawfish from a Publix supermarket in April 2014 that got him cited by law enforcement and suspended from Florida State’s baseball team.

When the topic came up in a discussion with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Winston explained that an employee at that Publix told Winston he could take food for free.

“A week before, it was my buddy’s birthday, and we had got a cake, and we met a dude that was inside Publix, and he had said that hey, anytime you come in here, I got you,” Winston said.  “So that day we just walked out and he hooked us up with that, and when I came in to get crab legs, I did the same thing, and he just gave them to me, and I walked out, and someone from inside the store had told the security that I didn’t pay for them, and that’s how the whole thing started.”

Back then, Winston said he simply forgot to pay, and Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher backed him up, saying that Winston “was used to going to Winn Dixie (a different supermarket) … but it wasn’t like he was trying to steal something.”

Winston’s new story could prompt questions from the NCAA. When the story broke in 2014, former NFL player Marcellus Wiley and South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly implied on Twitter that a Tallahassee Publix had given free food to Seminoles players for years. If that is true, it could be a violation, albeit a minor one, of NCAA rules about impermissible benefits to college athletes.

The NCAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

When asked about it during an ACC coaches conference call Wednesday, Fisher said he had spoken with Florida State’s NCAA compliance staff about Winston’s new explanation, and they felt free food at Publix was not an ongoing benefit of being a Seminoles football player.

“We did make contact with Publix back then to make sure there was nothing going on. Talking with our compliance this morning, they’ve had communications about that before and they’ve had communications today,” Fisher said. “They think it’s totally an isolated incident that happened, and they’re in the process of working with it right now. I don’t think there’s anything else more than that.”

Just a few hours after Fisher spoke, Florida State Athletics Director Stan Wilcox released a statement that said Winston’s new explanation was news to the university. (Fisher said the same thing.)

“The details disclosed by Winston in that interview were not previously known to the university,” Wilcox wrote. “We will work in partnership with the NCAA to determine whether a violation occurred.”

Publix released a statement that effectively refuted Winston’s new explanation.

“We are not in the practice of allowing food to exit our store without payment,” wrote spokeswoman Maria Brous in an email. “When the incident originally occurred with Mr. Winston, we did conduct an internal investigation to ensure that our policies were being adhered to. At the end of the investigation, we were confident that our policies were being executed by the store management team, and that we are not in the practice of giving away merchandise to FSU athletes or any other customers.”

On “Draft Academy,” after Winston talks about the crab legs, Harbaugh advises him, when talking to NFL coaches, to “keep it in a tidy box.”

“I (expletive) up,” Harbaugh tells Winston to say. “I should not have been taking anything for free. I’ve learned. I’ve learned from that.”

The crab legs conversation starts when Harbaugh asks Winston to list any discipline issues or encounters with police he had in high school and college. Winston answers that he was suspended for one game in high school for laughing when his football coach cried, he was suspended at Florida State for jumping on a table on campus and shouting a vulgar phrase, and he had an encounter with police in Tallahassee when an officer saw Winston and friends holding BB guns and thought they were real guns.

That list includes two noteworthy omissions. There’s the crab leg case, and there’s also the woman who accused Winston of raping her in 2012. Prosecutors declined to press charges, citing problems with the Tallahassee police investigation, and a Florida State code of conduct hearing cleared Winston of wrongdoing. The woman has since sued both Florida State and Winston.

On the show, Jedd Fisch, Michigan’s quarterbacks coach, implores Winston, when talking to coaches about his past, to not leave out the crab legs story.

“That’s like the elephant in the room for you,” Fisch tells Winston, speaking about the crab legs. “Everyone’s going to want to know what happened. So don’t, like, by accident, only talk about the BB gun incident and your high school coach crying and forget about the fact that everybody on SportsCenter read about that incident. Because then it looks like you’re covering it up, or you’re hiding it.”