Newspaper article International New York Times

Draft Winston No.1? for Buccaneers, It's a Tricky Question ; Team Needs Quarterback, but Florida State Player Has a Checkered History

Newspaper article International New York Times

Draft Winston No.1? for Buccaneers, It's a Tricky Question ; Team Needs Quarterback, but Florida State Player Has a Checkered History

Article excerpt

The downtrodden Tampa Bay Buccaneers need a quarterback, and they will draft first, but Jameis Winston's checkered past has presented the team with a quandary.

At a downtown park here on April 26, the Sexual Violence Task Force of Tampa Bay will host a "Take Back the Night" rally, a candlelight vigil and silent march to raise sexual assault awareness.

Four days later, and less than five miles away, executives sitting in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' gleaming office complex must decide whether to use the first pick of the N.F.L. draft on Jameis Winston, the Florida State University quarterback who was accused of raping a fellow student in 2012. Winston, 21, has asserted his innocence, did not face criminal charges and was recently cleared by Florida State of violating the university's student code of conduct.

The downtrodden Buccaneers need a quarterback, and Winston, a Heisman Trophy winner in 2013, is seen as one of the top two available. But Winston's checkered past -- he was also involved in BB gun incidents, cited for shoplifting and suspended one game for shouting an obscene phrase on campus -- has presented the team, and its fans, with a quandary that has divided and unsettled the Tampa Bay community.

In the wake of last year's graphic video that showed the former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his future wife and the firestorm the league's initial, light punishment of Rice generated, the N.F.L. announced that it was taking domestic violence and sexual assault matters more seriously. With the league's general reputation in mind, however, it is unclear if the N.F.L. has substantively changed any policies when it comes to vetting draft prospects in the aftermath of the Rice scandal.

The Buccaneers are not commenting on how they plan to use their prized first pick. A team spokesman said they were evaluating all the draft prospects and would not speak publicly about any specific player.

Representatives of the sexual violence task force, however, have visited with members of the Tampa Bay front office. Asked about the prospect of the Bucs selecting Winston, the task force's chairwoman, Amanda Brennan, said in a statement: "The larger issue is that there have been many allegations against Jameis Winston, yet there is no question that Jameis Winston will be chosen by an N.F.L. team to play next season. As an N.F.L. player, he is a role model for boys and young men across the country. The Sexual Violence Task Force of Tampa Bay would like to know that Jameis Winston will be expected to adhere to a strict standard of conduct."

Predicting how Winston will behave off the field as a highly paid professional football player has become the consuming focus of as many as 20 N.F.L. teams, who have begun exhaustive examinations into Winston's past.

"He's brought the scrutiny on himself, and how he deals with the next three or four months will be a big part of every team's evaluation. …

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