Winston’s behavior over the last two years opens him up to such fodder. But he has little to gain and a lot to lose by returning to college: money and freedom.
The former Heisman Tropy-winner, whose team was demolished by Oregon, 58-20, in last night’s Rose Bowl as part of the new-fangled college football playoffs, actually said the right thing after the humiliation.
“I’m not focused on that at all,” Winston said when asked whether he would leave school early. “I’m looking forward to next season and playing baseball. So I’m just trying to get better every day.”
His efforts to get better should include being a better, more responsible person. He’s going to need that in the world outside of rigid college football. That’s the only thing holding him back.
The talent is there, but his brushes with the law and all-out immaturity have scared off some NFL scouts who anonymously said last week that they “wouldn’t touch” Winston because of the series of off-the-field issues he’s endured.
That’s amusing because hardly anyone offered such concerns about Johnny Manziel, a former Heisman winner at Texas A&M who continually found himself in situations that would make one question his character.
Manziel’s misdeeds were virtually glossed over by most pundits. They were reported but did not linger, especially the claims that he accepted up to $7,000 for signing autographs on jerseys when he was at A&M. Georgia’s Todd Gurley was suspended for much of last season for doing and earning less than Manziel, who was suspended for half a game.
He went on to miss a mandatory meeting at a quarterbacks camp before the draft and gained a reputation as a party-first guy.
He was still drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns.
Winston, meanwhile, had a sexual assault case thrown out, walked out of a grocery store without paying for crab legs, shouted an obscenity as a prank on campus, among other issues that made people flinch.
There are two differences between Manziel and Winston: One, Winston has better size and more talent. Two, Manziel is white.
Surely, race is not always a factor in all comparisons like these. And maybe it is not a force here. But it is surely, ah, interesting, that there is so much venom fired toward Winston and less at Manziel, who stayed in the news for some of the wrong reasons, too.
Manziel got a clue and left college—getting in trouble outside the confines of the NCAA, while making millions, makes more sense.
Winston has to follow Manziel’s lead, if only in this instance. The FSU quarterback who also plays baseball is a lightning rod, a target for hecklers and media which is bound to get tiresome.
Might as well deal with that drama while starting his career. Winston was 29-of-45 for 348 yards with a touchdown and an interception last night—outstanding numbers. He played hard until he was pulled, even when it was clear their run for another National Championship was done.
Afterward, several Oregon players taunted Winston with “No means no!” chants in reference to the case in 2013 where he was found to have not violated the accuser, a woman he met at a restaurant.
Twitter erupted with Winston memes and chatter during and after the debacle. He’s a star for all the right and wrong reasons: talent and trouble.
Going back to Florida State likely would not serve him well. He won a Heisman. He won a national championship. His work is done at FSU.
He can deal with the hecklers as he plays in the NFL. He can grow up, if he chooses, being around men and professionals. He cannot run from trouble. It does not matter where he is next year if he does not grow up. That’s the question. Not whether he should stay in college.