Florida State Star Jameis Winston Suspended for Obscene Outburst

Florida State University's Jameis Winston
Florida State University (FSU) quarterback Jameis Winston comments about his half-game suspension during a news conference in Tallahassee, Florida September 17, 2014. Bill Cotterell/Reuters

When first I learned that top-ranked Florida State would be suspending quarterback Jameis Winston for one half of Saturday night's game versus No. 22 Clemson, my initial thought was, Sure, the half when Clemson is on offense.

Pardon my cynicism, but we have entered this turnstile before with the Seminoles' Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Last year's rape allegation against him was never properly investigated, neither by the Tallahassee Police Department nor by Florida State, and yielded no indictment or other punishment.

Winston was held out of a few practices while the prosecutor, William N. Meggs, mulled whether or not to pursue an indictment. Meggs ultimately chose not to, citing a lack of evidence, in a press conference that devolved into a mockery of the judicial system as Meggs and others cracked jokes about the case.

Then there was the "Deadliest Catch" incident, wherein last spring Winston departed a supermarket having 'forgotten" to pay for crab legs (retail value, $32.72). The Seminoles suspended Winston, who is also a pitcher on the school's baseball team, for three baseball games.

The legal system, of course, was even more lenient. In exchange for confessing to shoplifting, Winston was issued an "adult civil citation." As one local law source told the Florida State football blog Tomahawk Nation, "If he completes the sanctions it will never show up on his record. They commonly give them to juveniles on first criminal offenses. They are now doing it for minor misdemeanors for adults to lower crime rate."

Winston has been involved in another hi-jinks – alleged petty vandalism involving a pellet gun as well as taking undue liberty with a fast-food joint's fountain soda dispenser – the types of escapades that come off like Bart Simpson-meets-Dobie Gillis. No charges arose from those incidents, either.

It was as if Winston's offenses were the real-life equivalent of off-setting penalties. Someone threw a flag, but FSU and law enforcement preferred to simply replay the down than assess any yardage loss against Winston.

But today, after it was learned that Winston stood atop a table in a dining hall on Tuesday and shouted out an obscene phrase that has been making the rounds as a viral meme, Seminole coach Jimbo Fisher finally cracked down. The result? Winston will be suspended for half, specifically the first half, of Florida State's nationally televised prime-time game against Clemson on Saturday night, to be aired on ABC.

As Jason Kirk of the site SB Nation noted, Fisher's suspension should be seen as Winston's "lifetime achievement award." Indeed.

So what is happening here, and why has the six-foot-four Winston become the latest (today's) polarizing figure who happens to play football? First, the Bessemer, Ala., native is a stud. In his collegiate debut on September 2 of last year, also in front of a prime-time TV audience, he was brilliant, completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-13 rout at Pittsburgh. When interviewed on the field immediately afterward, the redshirt freshman was both charismatic and exuberant, with the presence of a revivalist Southern Baptist preacher. Oh, he was good. And persuasive.

Winston and the Seminoles spent the autumn of 2013 steamrolling opponents -- 62-7 over Nevada, 63-0 over Maryland, identical 59-3 victories on consecutive Saturdays versus Wake Forest and Syracuse, 80-14 over Idaho) -- moving inexorably toward an historic season in Tallahassee. Winston seemed destined to win the Heisman Trophy and the Seminoles to play in the final BCS National Championship Game… until that sexual assault allegation, a charge filed a full 11 months earlier, became public.

And suddenly "Famous Jameis," the quarterback whose likeness had been refashioned in a messianic image by a few rabid Seminole supporters, no longer fit the image of the big, frisky pup that we'd spent two months cooing over. We were at fault for so naively swallowing the myth, not that it was anything new (Manti Te'o's girlfriend, anyone?). But Winston, well, he had been quite the charmer.

Watch and listen to this interview with ESPN's Heather Cox from last December, moments after Winston led the Seminoles to a berth in the national championship game and only two days after Meggs' announcement that he would not be indicted. "I learned I gotta get more mature," Winston tells Cox after she asks what the rape allegation had taught him. "I learned I gotta get better in everything I do…. We can't be at this level [puts right arm at his waist. We gotta be up here [hand above head] and we gotta keep going higher and higher and higher…"

We so wanted to believe Winston was sincere. And maybe he was. But then there was the shellfish incident and an institution that chose to punish him not by forcing him to miss a football game, but rather a few baseball games.

This was just another example of Florida State protecting, and hence enabling, its most valuable gridiron commodity. Before the Seminoles' first game of this season, Winston sat down with ESPN's Kirk Herbrstreit and reiterated the message that he is every bit as angelic as that smile of his.

"What happened there?" Herbstreit asked, referring to the crab legs Winston pinched.

"I mean, it was an honest mistake," Winston replied, a smile spreading across his face. "I apologized for it and I took care of everything off the field that I needed to take care of."

And so, when Winston, not even a month later, stood atop a table in front of a number of fellow students on Tuesday and yelled those obscene words, you have to wonder: Is he chronically imperfect or is he a con artist? Are we in an age when athletes of his stature, thanks to Twitter and smartphone cameras, are unfairly and obsessively scrutinized? Or is that just a poor excuse for appalling behavior?

Nobody's perfect, not even a Heisman Trophy winner. No one should be held to such a standard. But that's not why so many erstwhile fans have turned against Winston, now is it?

"Do you feel like these experiences have taught you anything?" Herbstreit asked during that interview.

"It just made me realize that, hey man," Winston replied, "you have got to hold yourself to a standard that no one else can."

So far, no one in Tallahassee, including Winston, has had the temerity to hold him to any standard.