I never thought I would see the day when Florida State University’s football program would be the most hated team in all of sports. I know FSU has never been the most popular entity in college football. Between the infamous decade of the “Criminoles”, the way legendary coach Bobby Bowden was purged from the program which he built, and the schoolboy antics of Seminoles players ranging from Deion Sanders to Chris Rix, it is fair to say that there has been a sizable group of FSU haters for quite some time now. When the Noles took home the crystal football last January, the number of people who could be counted on to cheer against FSU only grew. That is standard procedure. People always dislike you when you are at the top.
Where the Seminoles sit in the public eye today, however, is a completely different story. This is not your classic Miami Heat Big Three, Tom Brady’s Patriots, Saban’s Crimson Tide type of disdain. The Seminoles are suffering from something much more grave. Nine months after bringing a third National Championship back to Tallahassee, Florida State University’s football program, administration, fan base, and city of residence have collectively become the proverbial punching bag of the sport universe. Sports fans everywhere, even the ones who entertain only a slight interest in college football, have come to hate the Florida State Seminoles.
Don’t believe me? Approach a fan of any college football team besides FSU. Ask them what their opinion of the Seminoles is. Then ask another. And another. Keep going until you have an appropriate sample size. I can guarantee the consensus will look something like the following:
Jameis Winston is a rapist.
Florida State University is corrupt.
The Tallahassee Police Department will do anything to protect FSU football players.
Jimbo Fisher doesn’t care about the fact that Jameis Winston is a terrible person, all he cares about is winning.
FSU fans are a bunch of enablers who blindly support Jameis Winston and their school even though both are guilty of horrific crimes.
How did we get to this point? How did Florida State become the cesspool of college football? When did the negative eye of the sports world focus squarely upon Tallahassee, FL?
Well, it all began with Jameis Winston. This is an important point for Seminoles fans to acknowledge. The Noles would not be in this position at all had Jameis Winston found a way to be more mature. When Jameis told reporters that he wanted them to hit him in the head with their microphones if he ever got “Johnny Manziel disease” way back in August of 2013, I’m sure none of us envisioned the tumultuous ride of insubordination he would take us all on. In his career at Florida State, Jameis Winston has been thoughtless, insensitive, silly, and sophomoric. In other words, he has acted like nearly every other 20 year male at Florida State University. But when you are such a high profile athlete, the most high profile athlete in your entire sport, you are held to a higher standard. More accurately, you are expected to hold yourself to a higher standard. Jameis Winston has not done that during his time at Florida State. He certainly deserves criticism for that being the case.
Immaturity by a star player, however, does not bring this type of scorn upon an institution. The only thing that brings this type of scorn upon an institution is a calculated effort to describe that institution in a manner that breeds negativity. Like it or not, we live in an era where our thoughts and opinions are harnessed and controlled by the media. If the media wants the public to believe something, it is likely that it will become fact.
This is exactly what has happened with Florida State University and Jameis Winston. The media has had an agenda to cover all issues that are even vaguely related to FSU in a manner that shows the school in a negative light. The most notable example of this is the coverage of the sexual assault allegations against the Heisman trophy winner. Jameis Winston was simply accused, he was not charged. Although there are indications of mishandling on the part of FSU and the TPD in this case, there is also a bevy of evidence that points towards the allegations against Winston being false. Yet since this case has been closed due to lack of evidence that could lead to a conviction, we have heard nothing from the media about the latter, and only about the former. While the conflicting statements, shaky testimony, and questionable law practices that can be attributed to Winston’s accuser and her legal team have garnered little to no media coverage, a possible mishandling by FSU and TPD has been the talk of the town. The New York Times (saw that one coming) and Fox Sports launched “groundbreaking” stories last week about FSU’s cover up of the Winston case. In reality, both of these articles contained very little new information. The Fox Sports article rephrased things that have been public knowledge for quite some time in way that made them seem more notable and The New York Times article found a way to focus upon BB gun fights as if they were acts of terrorism that went unnoticed. Neither article seemed to pack a crushing punch, yet they were soon picked up by ESPN and their cohorts and treated as if they did exactly that. Vague allusions to FSU engaging in a despicable cover up ran rampant on the air waves, and it wasn’t long before the public wholeheartedly believed that Florida State University and the Police Department of Tallahassee were composed of pure evil, much like their star QB.
Then came the autograph scandal. Jameis Winston was found to have 950 + items with his autograph on them authenticated and up for sale online. Many items were very similar and were signed in the same place, seeming to indicate a planned autograph signing for a dealer. Sounds pretty damning, right? Not when you look at the history of autograph investigations as they pertain to NCAA Football. Last year, high profile players such as Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Taj Boyd, Teddy Bridgewater, and Braxton Miller were all investigated for having similar amounts of sequential autographed memorabilia online. Proof of payment in exchange for these player’s autographs was non existent. Of all the players that were investigated, only Johnny Manziel received a suspension (half a game against Rice), and that was because evidence existed that pointed towards Manziel doing multiple bulk signing for dealers that amounted to nearly 4,500 autographed items. Since no money was found to be exchanged in return for these bulk signings, the punishment was minimal. Fast forward to 2014, when Georgia’s Todd Gurley is suspended indefinitely for similar autograph charges. The difference here, however, is that a dealer implicated Gurley for taking money in exchange for these autographs. While the media certainly covered the issues as they related to Gurley and Manziel due to the fact that they were suspended, it was very difficult to find anything about the investigations of the other aforementioned players. Even in the case of the Gurley and Manziel coverage, much of it centered around the moral issue with college players being penalized for using their likeness.
When the Winston autograph story broke, however, it was not given the same treatment. Winston has yet to be suspended for this issue, yet it is recieving as much or more attention than the Gurley or Manziel instances. There is no talk of whether players should be allowed to be paid for their autographs in reference to Winston, only condemnation for being involved in another scandal. In combination with the news that he will face a student conduct hearing, which is something we have all known was coming for quite some time, Winston is dominating ESPN and the other network’s headlines once again. And just like in the past, Winston has yet to be implicated for anything at all in either matter.
Darren Rovell, ESPN’s lead author for all things involving Jameis Winston’s signature, has shown himself to be inconsistent on his reporting of this matter. As you can see from a Twitter exchange I had with Rovell last night, he has no problem switching the focus of his story as long as it makes Jameis Winston look bad:
Then, in a later Twitter exchange with former Nole and current ESPN employee Danny Kanell (who has, for his own right, had no problem sticking up for FSU throughout this ordeal), Kanell shoots down Rovell’s argument, only to have Rovell cite a completely different figure, and then be shot down by Kannel once again:
Let’s not just focus on Darren Rovell and ESPN, although the mother-ship has been the most egregious aggressor of the media outlets, as Bleacher Report has also thrown their hat into the ring of FSU hate. The funny thing is that Bleacher Report isn’t even trying to disguise their articles as anything but bold faced loathing. Check out this article headline, referring to this weekend’s FSU v Notre Dame showdown:
In this article, the author is quoted as saying:
“We usually treat the Irish with disdain when it comes to football.
Not this week.
Notre Dame is playing Florida State this Saturday night, and the national mood is that we have had enough of the Seminoles because of this Jameis Winston affair. FSU’s handling of Winston has been abominable. The Tallahassee Police Department did a lot of harm to the FSU players and the school’s reputation with its handling of the case. The school did a lot of harm itself.
The Seminoles are more unlikeable than Notre Dame.”
Seems fair enough, right? The media has declared Jameis Winston guilty and FSU as a bunch of conspirators, so America has no right to cheer for them. While we are at it, why don’t we just suspend Jameis Winston for the rest of the season? Oh wait, Bleacher Report suggested that too:
A nice quote from the above article:
“On Saturday, Florida State, the defending national champ, will play undefeated Notre Dame. The winner becomes a strong favorite to get into the College Football Playoff. The loser does not. But Florida State needs to make a real statement first and do one thing:
Suspend Jameis Winston. Now.
It’s the only thing to do for Florida State; it must take a moral stand for football and society. And if Florida State lets Winston play? Then that makes a statement, too—a dangerous one. In fact, Florida State already did the wrong thing in allowing Winston to play this past Saturday against Syracuse…
So no, there is no proof that Winston did anything wrong. The state attorney did not file charges. Why suspend Winston then?
To stand up for what’s right. So far, the school appears to have schemed in a way that prioritizes football over the cries of a woman who says she was violated.”
Well that seems quite logical! Jameis is guilty, and so is Florida State University. Bleacher Report certainly shares that opinion with the rest of the media and, by now, the rest of the world. What is even more amusing, however, is how the media is failing to cover the serious issues that are arising with players in the SEC. Let’s take a look at Robert Nkemdiche, the former #1 overall recruit who has become one of the best players on a top three Ole Miss team. This week, a photo of Nkemdiche smoking out of a bong started circulating the web:
This is not Nkemdiche’s first instance of trouble. We are talking about a kid who, along with his brother (who is also an Ole Miss player) was recently sued for $2 million for his role in knocking out another student at an on campus party along with five other Ole Miss players. Nkemdiche was suspended for spring practice, but has not missed a game yet this season.
Or maybe we should look at the curious case of Kurt Freitag, a sophomore tight end for the Alabama Crimson Tide. A search of Kurt’s dorm room earlier this week by narcotics agents yielded a tidy 112 grams of marijuana and $4,600 in cash. No charges have been found to have been filed in this matter to this point.
These seem like headline stories, don’t they? Players for major SEC programs are being caught in the act of a crime and are not being disciplined. Yet we do not see these stories anywhere on ESPN, and they are buried far down in the college football pages on sites like Bleacher Report. Can you imagine if Jameis Winston was implicated in either of these issues? ESPN, and subsequently Twitter, would explode.
There is a double standard in sports media right now. The major outlets are going at FSU’s throat, and there is nothing that the Seminole fan base can do to stop it. There is, however, something that Noles fans can do instead: Seminoles fans everywhere can embrace the hate. Trying to express the FSU fan’s viewpoint on any and all of these issues has become a completely futile effort. There is no way to win with that methodology. There is only one way that FSU fans will win in the current college football environment. It is the Noles against the rest of the sports world, and the only thing to do now is to unite as one.
I have heard a great deal of talk about Seminoles boycotting ESPN’s College Gameday this coming Saturday. That is the most ineffective path I can imagine. Given how ESPN has so easily spun every issue that involves FSU up to this point, how much difficulty would they have turning FSU fans’ lack of attendance at Gameday into a lack of support for the Seminoles as a whole? I can envision the quote from Chris Fowler now: “Clearly all the controversy surrounding this team has taken a toll on their fan base. The support is not nearly as strong as it used to be.”
Rather than boycotting Gameday, the better strategy would be to show up in full force and actively protest the network that has had it out for Florida State University. Bring the #BlameJameis signs. Find a way to get posters criticizing ESPN inside. Hell, let’s sit in silence the whole time and then pull a Hunger Games style three finger protest:
And then, when game time rolls around, show up loud. Louder than the crowd has ever been. Hopefully Jimbo will send the Noles out in the black uniforms and the fans can act like those of the Oakland Raiders who sit in the black hole and revel in their image as the villain. Hopefully the crowd can rally themselves and bellow a resounding “Just Win, Baby!” Show the world that the Seminoles know that the rest of the world is against them, and that they couldn’t care less.
If you poke the beast enough times, you are bound to get bitten. It is time to show the rest of the sports world that they messed with the wrong team.