Student-athletes will act their age

by Mike Heral , Senior Staff Columnist

About a decade ago, I was at a hotel bar in Colorado Springs while on a business trip for the U.S. Navy. To my right sat a younger couple, possibly college-aged, engaged in a tiff. The woman turned to me, noticed my age and asked, “When do you (men) grow up?” My response then, is still my response today, “Sorry, hasn’t happened yet.”

Now let’s apply this to Florida State University’s student-athlete-turned-bad-boy Jameis Winston. Like it or not, we have to set the rape allegation aside since Winston wasn’t formally charged, and ask: What has he done to deserve his game suspension against Clemson University? Was it when he shoplifted seafood from a grocery store? Or when he caused an estimated $4,000 in damages when he had a pellet-gun battle inside of his apartment? Or when he drank a little too much from a soda dispenser without paying for it? Nope, it wasn’t any of those — although he did get a three-game baseball suspension for the misappropriated crab legs. Instead, he’s whacked for screaming a profane meme in the student union. Jeez, Winston, you’re hard core.

The truth is, he hasn’t grown up yet, nor has almost anyone walking around campuses nationwide. His offenses—again, set that unproven rape allegation aside—are little more than youthful indiscretions. Even our presidents succumbed to those. Bill Clinton smoked but didn’t inhale and George W. Bush fought substance abuse. They overcame mistakes and so can Winston.

On Saturday night’s Fox Sports 1 college football recap show, former University of Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt complained that Winston wasn’t showing the leadership befitting of a Heisman Trophy winner. But Winston won that award even as the rape allegation swirled around him unresolved. Clearly, Heisman voters didn’t care then about his alleged behavior. So why should we be surprised now that he still acts like a 20-year-old kid? If anything, he learned that playing quarterback better than any other collegian excused moral turpitude lapses. When will society learn that undesirable behaviors can’t be changed when contempt is diluted by praise?

Additionally, it isn’t fair for us in the media to hammer Winston for not knowing acceptable behavior for a joke when a professional journalist re-tweets a sexual innuendo by “The Show,” and tacking on a “HAHA” in the process. I joked on Facebook earlier in the day that society needs a Venn diagram to understand where to draw the moral outrage version of the Mason-Dixon Line. It didn’t take long for someone to post that such a diagram would be impossible. The aforementioned tweet proves my responder is right.

It’s been 21 years since NBA’s great Charles Barkley declared that athletes aren’t role models. Yet, society still acts surprised that athletes aren’t superheroes. In an upcoming column, I’ll explore how San Diego State prepares its student-athletes for scrutiny. Until then, though, let’s remember that Heisman Trophy winners and 46-year-old student journalists alike take time to mature.