I’m not a big college football fan.
In fact, I usually go out of my way to avoid knowing about whatever is going on in the murky, corrupt world of NCAA football (with one slight exception for my perennially disappointing Boston College Eagles). The NFL and the NBA already take over enough of my limited brain space, and I just can’t put in the effort to learn a whole roster’s worth of new players every two years.
That, and I just kind of get sad when I think about the dysfunctional system that a lot of these athletes are placed in. Only a minute fraction of them ever end up playing in the NFL, but for four years these children are treated like untouchable gods that can do whatever they'd like. And don't get confused, they are children. Do you remember what you were like at 19? You may have been able to vote, but you were an idiot. For my own piece of mind, it’s just easier for me to pretend like the whole thing isn’t happening.
But sometimes an NCAA story become so ubiquitous that I can’t help but be at least semi-aware of what’s going on.
Recently, the rape scandal involving Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, quarterback for the newly crowned national championship Florida State Seminoles, became one of those kinds of stories.
Honestly though, I don’t really know much about the case, and what I do know might be wrong. Fortunately, that’s basically irrelevant with where I’m going with this.
Follow me on this one…
Let’s say I told you that, in a completely hypothetical scenario, a 19 year old sophomore at a football-centric university filed a police report claiming that the school’s star quarterback had raped her after she got too drunk at a party. The quarterback has already publicly gone on record denouncing the claims and continues to maintain his absolute innocence. Those are all the details you know.
Who does your gut side with?
Mine goes with the girl, but I’m not quite sure why -- and I find that really interesting. Because when you take the athlete angle out of it, I fall into the camp that these kinds of things are often a lot murkier than they seem, and I try my best to reserve any judgments.
As someone who was once a boy in college, I can tell you that they are a dumb breed who are capable of doing very dumb things when drunk. But college girls aren't that much smarter. I’m also too jaded a person to not at least mention the fact that sometimes athletes actually are targeted by women looking to make money off of them.
But the star quarterback at a big football school thing changes everything.
I’d like to hope it’s just my Varsity Blues’ing, Blue Chip’ing imagination running wild with notions of truly corrupt football programs, universities, and law enforcement officials, but deep down I know it’s just my gut playing the odds it believes are in place. It may have been more of a toss-up under normal circumstances, but for some reason, being a star college athlete at a big time football university intrinsically makes me vilify the guy.
And while I admit to only being a casual fan of the game, doesn’t that say something about the NCAA Football brand?
I know that beneath professional sports' glossy exterior there's a very seedy underbelly, but I always believed that the NCAA had enough power over the schools and the players to keep everything relatively under control if they just had the balls to do it. Now though, as I see ESPN’s front page littered with articles praising Florida State’s program on the same day that Deadspin is posting updated details about the case, I just don’t know.
The college football machine seems too big to stop at this point, and that’s what makes it so scary.
The Florida State quarterback may be completely innocent, but even if he isn’t, Florida State has enough power to make this go away. Time and time again we have uncovered stories about universities “coming to the aid” of players in trouble, and because of that, I now automatically assume that is what is happening when I hear about a player being cleared of legal charges.
It may not be right and it may not be fair, but I can't help feeling that I’m just playing the odds.