TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has decided to enter the NFL draft. He announced his decision on the same day the woman who accused him of sexual assault filed a lawsuit against the school’s board of trustees.
The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner said Wednesday he had decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility “after careful consideration and long thought.” Winston’s statement was released to ESPN by The Legacy Agency.
Winston was the most successful quarterback in college football during the last two seasons, but also faced lengthy sexual assault investigations. He was not charged by police and was cleared by the university.
In a lawsuit filed against the school’s board of trustees, the woman who accused him of sexual assault claimed the board had an unreasonable response to her accusations and created a hostile educational environment for her. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, including reimbursement for tuition, damages for emotional pain and suffering and loss of past and present earning and earning capacity.
Representatives for the woman declined comment.
Florida State president John Thrasher released a statement saying he is disappointed in the lawsuit, but the university looks forward to “addressing these meritless allegations in court.” The university has contended it took all the proper steps in fulfilling its Title IX obligations, and “FSU did everything the plaintiff asked for and that the assertions FSU shirked its Title IX obligations are false.”
“In all, the University asked the plaintiff or her attorneys at least nine times over nearly 20 months to give a statement that would enable a Title IX investigation. FSU did not ignore the complainant or its obligations under Title IX,” Thrasher said in the statement. “The University’s victim advocates were at the plaintiff’s side within hours of the encounter and continued meeting with or contacting her or her representatives at least 30 times over the ensuing year. Besides offering emotional support and arranging numerous academic accommodations on her behalf, they informed the plaintiff and her attorney five times about the right to pursue a student disciplinary action. The first was in December 2012—before the Athletics Department ever became aware of the allegation—and the last was in December 2013.
“Florida State University does not tolerate sexual violence in any form, regardless of who the alleged perpetrator might be.”
A key portion of the lawsuit is expected to center on when the university’s Title IX coordinator was alerted. Florida State previously said the only authorities aware of the incident before January 2013 were Tallahassee police, campus police and the Victims Advocate Program. The university said its Title IX officials didn’t become aware of the incident until November 2013, when contacted by the Tallahassee Police Department and that the woman was not made available for an interview with the school until Aug. 6, 2014. The woman’s lawyers have maintained that she was willing to talk throughout the process.
In his two seasons, the Seminoles went 26-1 with Winston starting and won the 2014 national championship.
“I reached this very difficult decision after careful consideration and long thought, realizing how difficult it would be to say goodbye to my family at Florida State,” Winston said. “I will always take pride in leading our team back to national prominence and am confident that my returning teammates will continue the success for many years to come.”
Winston set the national freshman record with 40 touchdown passes while throwing for 4,057 yards and 10 interceptions en route to winning the title. His numbers dropped this season after losing his top two running backs, two starting receivers and his starting center. Winston threw for 3,907 yards with 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 2014.
Winston is expected to be one of the first quarterbacks selected in the NFL draft, but faces questions about the off-field incidents.
NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt said NFL teams will find out everything they need to know about Winston’s background from league security. Brandt helped build the Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboys as vice president of player personnel from 1960-89.
“Initially, he’s going to get a grade and it’s going to be very good because he is a good player,” Brandt said. “They’ll look at the Notre Dame game and see all the unusual blitzes that they brought against him and what he did. They’ll look at the Louisville game where he threw three interceptions and knocks the ball loose from the interceptor and throws a touchdown pass the next play.”
A state attorney declined to press sexual assault charges against Winston in December 2013, and the university cleared him in December 2014.
“The way he’s played this year is unbelievable with all of the problems that he’s faced and all the adjustments he’s had to make to practice times and to do all the things that he has to do to defend himself, give depositions, appear in court before the student body, all of those things,” Brandt said.
Winston was suspended for three baseball games for the theft of crab legs from a grocery store in Tallahassee, Florida, during the spring of 2014. He also was suspended from the Clemson football game in September after the quarterback made “offensive and vulgar” comments about female anatomy on campus.
Coach Jimbo Fisher supported Winston throughout.
“It was a blessing to be able to coach him,” Fisher said Wednesday in a statement. “He’s one of the unique players that I’ve ever had the privilege to coach. He embodies what you as a coach want as a person, a student and a player.”
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