By DAVID FISCHER
As I’m sure most of you know by now, the Cornell Football team’s win against Columbia University on Sunday was an historic occasion. In the Empire State Bowl (because apparently being the only two Ivies in New York State qualify you to have an annual football game called the “Empire State Bowl”), Cornell beat Columbia 30 to 27 in a matchup that subsidiary of ESPN and progeny of Nate Silver’s statistical weapon of a mind, Fivethirtyeight.com, called, “The Worst College Football Game in The Worst College Football Town.” Yes, the epic matchup of Cornell’s 0-8 squad versus Columbia’s equally cringeworthy 0-8 team in a stadium 100 city blocks away from Columbia’s main campus ended with Cornell (1-8) victorious over Columbia (0-9), taking home the coveted Empire State Bowl (an object that looks more like an oversized flower vase than ornate, crystalline symbol of victorious conquest). Although the Cornell team goes into its last game of the season with only a losing record and a trophy from a named game that has its origins in a marketing campaign from 2010, I’d much rather have Cornell’s problems than the issues that defending National Champion Florida State University has.
Last season, Florida State won the 2014 Vizio BCS National Championship Game by a score of 34-31 against the Auburn Tigers. Two important players for the Florida State side were quarterback Jameis Winston (named Most Valuable Offensive Player) and cornerback P.J. Williams (named Most Valuable Defensive Player), both of whom have been in the news lately for the wrong reasons. Winston, in particular, has courted controversy for much of his time at Florida State, most notably an investigation in 2013 for allegations of a sexual assault against a fellow student that occured in 2012, a shoplifting citation (the victim: Publix, the shoplifted item: crab legs) and a one game suspension for standing on a table in the FSU student union and screaming a lewd comment, the likes of which is unprintable in this newspaper.
In an exhaustive investigation published in the New York Times, Walt Bogdanich examined the circumstances that lead to Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs declaring in December 2013 that no sexual assault charges would be filed against Winston, finding certain irregularities in the Tallahassee Police Department investigation into the incidence, including the fact that TPD never obtained a DNA sample from Winston despite the fact that the complainant identified Winston by name. After the investigation was dropped, Winston went on to win the National Championship and the Heisman Trophy (the highest honor for a collegiate football player).
Winston was in the news again when an FSU disciplinary hearing concerning the sexual assault complaint from late 2012 was pushed back two weeks. First of all, it seems ridiculous to me that FSU has waited this long to conduct this hearing. It will be two years from the initial sexual assault complaint once it finally takes place. Second, the fact that a hearing that could determine disciplinary sanctions against Winston was rescheduled to take place after the final two games in FSU’s currently undefeated season seems like some fishy business to me.
Let’s turn quickly to last season’s National Championship Defensive MVP, Winston’s teammate P.J. Williams. A month ago, FSU’s starting cornerback P.J. Williams was involved in a car accident that resulted in both cars being totaled and two tickets for Williams. Immediately after the crash — which occurred at 2:37 a.m. after an FSU victory on Oct. 5 — Williams and his two passengers fled the scene of the accident, returning 20 minutes later, according the police report filed by the Tallahassee Police Department as reported by various news outlets. I would love to include a link to the police report, but it was not posted to the Tallahassee Police Department’s database of police calls, a problem that the TPD attributed to a technical glitch.
Elijah Stiers, a lawyer who helped write Florida legislation regarding penalties for hit-and-runs, was quoted in a New York Times article about this specific case, saying, “at the very least you’ve got to charge them with a hit and run. … You don’t get out of it just because you come back to the scene.” The Times article also mentions that the TPD furnished them with seven reports of other instances where drivers in accidents had fled for a brief amount of time, but these accidents all resulted in no or minor damage, according to the Times. FSU President John Thrasher responded in a Tallahassee Democrat article, saying, “We are disturbed that a newspaper with a distinguished reputation would print such a speculative story.” Yes, the story is obviously speculative, but I believe that the FSU administration should be more disturbed that it seems entirely possible that a University that makes millions of dollars by turning their “student-athletes” into a spectacle could potentially inspire favoritism in the justice system. Such favoritism might manifest itself as missteps that could potentially not allow the finding of enough evidence to convict a star quarterback of rape (resulting in dropped charges), the pushing back of a hearing to conveniently coincide with the end of the football season or the bending of hit-and-run regulations because the perpetrator came back to the scene 20 minutes later. Avowedly, that previous sentence is speculative.
Obviously, the few alleged blemishes on the face of the justice system that I have highlighted in this column are likely not indicative of the treatment that every University’s athletes face. However, I think it would also be naive to suggest that these incidents are isolated ones that take place in a town that is simply too football-crazy for its own good. There are other examples, the ongoing Administration-assisted academic integrity violations at the University of North Carolina come to mind here. A one-sentence overview of the scandal: For nearly 20 years, student-athletes (as well as other students) have been enrolling in fake “paper classes” to maintain their NCAA eligibility, a system that has failed to lift some UNC athletes above an elementary school reading level. Universities should view the amount of deference placed on top-tier athletic programs as an existential threat to their very educational foundation. Until student-athletes are treated the same way as as other students by their Universities and the surrounding community, the latter half of their identifying compound noun will always trump being a student.
David Fischer is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fischy Business appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.