It is hard to believe that only two years ago Jameis Winston stood inside the Rose Bowl in a shower of confetti. Winston had just punctuated a solid game (235 passing yards, two touchdowns) and a historic season with a game winning drive ending in a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left to guide Florida State to an undefeated season and the 2014 BCS National Championship. Over the course of his collegiate career, Winston garnered more than 15 individual awards, including the Heisman Trophy, led FSU to two ACC championships, and set a plethora of FBS freshman records, including throwing for an astounding 40 touchdowns throughout the National Championship campaign.
However, all his accolades earned only a supporting role in the never ending drama that was the Jameis Winston era at Florida State. A string of incidences (the BB gun and squirrels complaint, the stealing of soda from Burger King, the shoplifting of crab legs from a Publix, and the one game suspension in 2014 for vulgar comments shouted in the Student Union) danced tantalizingly across national headlines for his critics and menacingly for his school. None more so than the alleged sexual assault a former Florida State student has claimed to have occurred in December 2012.
On Monday, it was announced that Florida State University had reached a settlement offer with Erica Kinsman of $950,000. The settlement also requires Florida State’s commitment to five years of sexual assault awareness, prevention, and training programs while publishing reports on these programs. The settlement is the largest payment ever to a single plaintiff claiming a school was indifferent to a sexual assault allegation. While a lawsuit filed by Kinsman against Winston is still pending (court proceedings are scheduled for 2017) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) from the U.S. Department of Education investigation that began in April of 2014 is still in progress, this should be the end of a long and embarrassing process for Florida State University.
They decided, instead, to bring more shame upon what should be a proud university.
Throughout this ordeal, Florida State has demonstrated a lack of empathy towards sexual assault victims that is both shocking and disheartening, beginning with FSU’s lack of initial action. According to Kinsman’s lawsuit, Monk Bonasorte, FSU’s senior associate athletic director, and coach Jimbo Fisher first heard of the situation in January of 2013. Yet no legal proceedings, much less an investigation began until the allegations became public knowledge in November of the same year.
After Penn State’s own scandal, one has to wonder how a situation such as this could go eleven months without so much as an inquiry taking place. Florida State’s response: An appropriate person to open a school investigation was never made aware. This is a disgusting attempt to justify what was quite simply an error of judgement displayed by every party involved. Rather than acknowledging the error and entering the five year plan with a promise to improve, Florida State has created an appearance in which they are simply acquiescing to the demands of an individual. This appearance insinuates they are not instituting these programs because they want to, but because they have to and they are being dragged into it kicking and screaming.
Why then, would Florida State be willing to settle? FSU president John Thrasher stated it was to avoid continuing expenses incurred throughout the legal process. “Although we regret we will never be able to tell our full story in court, it is apparent that a trial many months from now would have left FSU fighting over the past, rather than looking toward its very bright future,” said Thrasher. “We have decided to instead move forward, even though we have full faith that the ultimate outcome of a trial would have been consistent with the previous law enforcement investigations and retired Supreme Court Justice Major Harding’s findings in the student conduct hearing.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Thrasher, FSU’s bright future may have been eclipsed somewhat by his cold comments. First, while the total cost of the suit between legal fees and the settlement totaled more than $2.6 million, the majority of the money was paid by Seminole Boosters Inc. and the State of Florida’s Risk Management Fund. Regardless of who pays the legal fees, however, it seems incredulous that FSU would concede in a case such as this if they truly were free of any wrong doing. Admitting otherwise would be to admit to institutionalized disregard for claims of sexual assault, something no parent wants to associate with the university to which he or she is about to send a child. A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing, so while FSU may have escaped the legal process without any confirmation of their actions one way or another, they have almost certainly indicted themselves in the court of public opinion.
No confetti fell on Monday. No one stood triumphantly in the center of the most iconic college football stadium surrounded by hundreds of cameras. No game winning pass thrown. No trophy awarded. Yet Erica Kinsman earned an iconic victory for sexual assault victims everywhere. No longer will it be quite as simple to dismiss a woman who says she has been assaulted. Kinsman can now move forward into a time of healing. Florida State should do the same. Rather than continuing an impassioned and fruitless defense, FSU can help a former student, and a whole university, heal. Perhaps there will be a time down the road where Florida State University will no longer be synonymous with sexual assault apathy, but will be at the forefront of sexual assault awareness and assistance. If this can be done, then the future Mr. Thrasher referred to has the potential to be extremely bright indeed.