All we want is the news on quarterback Jameis Winston to be about what the young man does on the football field and not off it. Yet that’s not likely to happen – not soon. Winston’s a victim of his success, and success often draws critics no matter what a man might do.
And the critics are plentiful when it comes to Winston. They prefer to talk about what he isn’t rather than what he is. No one can really say what he isn’t, although his critics often do.
Yet they also know what Winston is, because they saw it firsthand Saturday night in his performance against Notre Dame in a matchup of unbeatens. His season and Florida State’s season would have been in disarray had the Seminoles, the reigning national champions, lost to the Fightin’ Irish.
They would have lost, too – and lost under the Tallahassee lights – were it not for Jameis Winston.
Talk about his off-field conduct has grown tiresome. People and the press pick apart his life as if he were on the FBI list of America’s Most Wanted. They forget he’s a young man, someone who is still learning what it means to be grown. Who at 20 knew what that meant?
No one is trying to play down the allegations about an alleged sexual assault. But the man hasn’t been charged, so doesn’t he deserve a fair shake? Do we convict a man in public before we convict him in a courtroom?
“There is no victim because there’s no crime,” coach Jimbo Fisher told The Sporting News last week in Winston’s defense. “We’re convicting a guy over things that are not true based on evidence.”
We are a society that expects more from high-profile athletes than we expect from ourselves. We look for athletes like Winston to live some virginal life, a life without a single misstep in a world that trips over itself at every corner.
When these men do have missteps, we are quick to vilify them. We show these men less mercy than we do drug dealers, pimps and thugs who use violence to hold a community hostage.
Winston hasn’t damaged our community at all. If anything, he’s added joy to our world. He’s a star, and most of us love stars. We love them because they remind us of what fame looks like. In our minds, we live their success vicariously. These men’s fame soon becomes ours as well.
For a season-and-a-half, Winston has filled our dreams with performances that will stand for ages. He’s won a Heisman for his play, and he’s used his strong arm to lead the Seminoles to a national championship earlier this year. He can’t possibly give us more than he already has.
Yet people do want more – a lot more. They want a naïve young man to act as if he’s more seasoned about life than he is. His critics seem to forget all of this. But they should step back and look inside themselves. They should not be too quick to judge a man – not when the man is still coming of age.
In this era of quick judgments, we’ve come to accept this rush to judge a man, no matter whether doing so runs counter to what makes America what it is.
We have judged Jameis Winston harshly. We have judged him harshly for what he can’t be instead of seeing him for what he is. He deserves better from us. He deserves it because every man deserves to grow up first before we saddle him with great expectations he can’t possibly reach.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)