As the 2015 NFL Draft quickly approaches, executives and general managers are doing their due diligence to investigate and evaluate the future faces of their franchises. However, the same troubling question seems to permeate the potential pool of prospects every year: how well can one actually judge the character of a college student?
Hell, Darren Sharper didn't seem to have many, if any, red flags when he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers out of William & Mary in the 1997 NFL Draft.
Regardless, after a (formally) Hall of Fame-worthy career, Darren Sharper plead guilty to slipping Ambien into the drinks of unsuspecting women in four states and then raping them. He has negotiated a plea deal that will allow him to resolve multiple sexual assault charges in California, New Orleans, Arizona and Nevada. He is sentenced to eight years in Nevada, nine years in Arizona, and 20 years in Louisiana.
And even in the face of this recent revelation, as the draft approaches, Jameis Winston is projected as the first overall pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yes, the same Jameis Winston who, only five months ago, was still the subject of campus-related sexual assault allegations. No criminal charges were filed, and Florida State University cleared Winston of violating the student conduct code, but many have contributed these results to shoddy police investigation and a possible cover-up concocted by Florida State University.
Now, the criminal defense attorney in me will always stand firm in the belief that any person alleged to have committed a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Still, the businessman in me has to think that drafting someone with a checkered background, and devoting guaranteed money to him, is one hell of a risky business move.
After all, if a player such as Sharper, who came into the league carrying no such allegations, can be unmasked as the demon with the drugged-drinks, I worry that college players who have already shown a general lack of (or disregard for) good judgement will fall victim to the same fate that seems to go hand-in-hand with the star power and signing bonuses that accompany a lucrative NFL contract. Ben Roethlisberger came into the league squeaky clean as well before the power (allegedly) went to his head, at least according to the sexual assault-related settlements and suspensions he has incurred.
Thankfully, the media's spotlight on these acts has prompted a visceral reaction among the general public. A continued response could possibly lead to lasting change, or at least the elimination of a rape culture that blames the victim for putting herself (or himself) into a dangerous predicament. Sadly though, it seems as if a lack of education regarding that fact is half the problem.
When society talks about date rape drugs, we tend to think of Rohypnol ("roofies"), GHB or Ketamine. As the Darren Sharper case shows us though, any drug which causes extreme drowsiness, loss of consciousness or impaired motor control can be used to facilitate a sexual assault.
Consequently, it is important to remember that the most common substance used in drug-facilitated rape is alcohol. Alcohol can be particularly dangerous. It not only deprives the victim of the ability to provide or withhold consent, but it also lowers the inhibitions and impairs the judgment of the perpetrator.
Just ask Christian Peter. By all accounts, Mr. Peter turned over a new leaf and has become a respected family man. However, that was not the case when he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1996 draft by the New England Patriots.
At the time, Peter had just finished a college career which included eight arrests, four convictions, and multiple allegations of sexual assault and rape from various women. Peter attributed much of his troubles to alcohol. Regardless of his past transgressions, Christian Peter was drafted. A team valued his talent more than his character concerns, just as some teams will do this year.
I hope that a large share of the problem stems from lack of education. I hope these college athletes aren't just "bad" people. As a criminal defense attorney handling sex crimes, I see far too many cases where a young person makes terrible decisions while under the influence. While there should be consequences for committing a rape or sexual assault, it would be far preferable to avoid these types of situations altogether by educating our young people -- both boys and girls -- about the nature of rape and the consequences of taking advantage of someone who is too inebriated to resist, which seems to be the basis of the allegations against Winston.
But how can we educate our youth when they constantly see these issues seemingly ignored by pro sports?
Someone (likely very early in the draft) will roll the dice on Jameis Winston's enormous potential. Moreover, the former Florida State quarterback will not be the last highly-touted prospect to cash in on his natural abilities despite disparaging allegations, even in the face of statements from individuals in his camp who believe that Winston is "not ready to be an NFL player off the field." Many other players, such as Prince Shembo have also been drafted recently regardless of the allegations they faced while in school.
Consequently, it's hard not to believe there must be some threshold, some level of talent that exists which will blind NFL executives to the point they are willing to gamble on the limitless potential of a player with a troubled past.
Every draft, it is this belief that becomes reality. Every draft, it is this reality that perpetuates the stigma.
Sadly, the cycle seems to be never-ending, and this slanted reward system must be changed in order to protect our young people. Young athletes cannot continue to believe that their God-given gifts will excuse them from being held accountable for their actions, and NFL teams cannot continue to enable them. But they will. Despite the prior allegations, and despite a recent lawsuit filed by his alleged victim, Jameis Winston's talent will outweigh his character concerns.
Say hello to the future face of someone's franchise.