Jameis Winston . . . Again?

If you’re even a little bit of a sports fan, you probably know that Florida State University’s quarterback, Jameis Winston, has been suspended from the first half of the FSU-Clemson game for standing on a table in the student union and shouting out obscenities. As good as he’s been on the field, Jameis has been in the news a lot over the past year, receiving negative publicity for his off-the-field activities.

I’m on the faculty at Florida State, and when I heard the news, I questioned whether his offensive behavior really warranted that punishment. He offended some people (most of them, people who weren’t there at the time but just heard about what he did on the news), but he didn’t hurt anybody, and he apparently had no malicious intent. But, I thought, maybe because this isn’t the first time he’s done something questionable, the suspension is warranted as a warning in light of all he’s done before. (I’m not talking about a rape accusation, which is a matter for law enforcement.)

But now I’ve been told by a student who was there when the incident happened that Jameis was only one of about 15 individuals who were standing on tables and shouting the same obscene phrase. I’ve never seen this in any of the news stories about the event. I’m hearing this second-hand and taking the student’s word that Jameis was just one of more than a dozen engaging in the same acts.  I wasn’t there . . . but neither were members of the news media who are now reporting the story.

If it is true that Jameis was just one of many, then I’m thinking his suspension is unfair. None of the others have even been mentioned, let alone punished. While at first it appears that there is some parallel here with the NFL sanctions for players who have behaved badly off-field, the parallel breaks down because the NFL is a private organization (albeit with monopoly powers protected by the government) whereas Florida State University is most definitely a government institution. Private organizations can make their own rules.  Governments should follow rule of law.

If the student’s eye-witness account is accurate, Jameis was just trying to be one of the guys, although admittedly, one of the guys engaging in offensive and rude behavior. But he meant no harm, and rudeness is normally not a punishable offense. (Increasingly, offending people is.)

Should a government organization really be punishing people for behaving crudely in public? That, in itself, is questionable, but if it is the case that Jameis was just a part of a larger rude group with no malicious intent, and he’s the only one who was punished, that’s another issue.

If Florida State University were a private organization, I’d say that they can do what they want (even if I disagree). But as a government organization, FSU should be obligated to follow the rule of law and to treat everyone equally. After hearing a student’s account of the event (no media was present to witness it), I question whether FSU’s bad boy was treated fairly in this case.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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