Today, Jameis Winston is a possible No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. In the meantime, he's being scrutinized by NFL teams in every way possible. Yet the most jarring and combustive smudge on his resume -- a sexual assault accusation that has, amid much controversy, never led to a police investigation -- is branded only as a "distraction."
In other words, it won't jeopardize Winston's shot at becoming an overnight millionaire when some NFL team tabs him as its quarterback of the future. For as long as he can play football, Winston will be coveted, cheered, even adored.
His shadow, though, will follow him wherever he goes. A new documentary won't do Winston any favors in trying to escape his past.
"The Hunting Ground" is a documentary focused on the campus sexual assault rates that have plagued virtually every U.S. academic institution. The intersection of assault and athletics is only one component of the film's narrative. But it is easily the most visible and attention-getting, polarizing the debate and forcing sports fans to reckon with tough realities: That the athletes they have fashioned into heroes may be compromised by serious, violent transgressions.
As the film notes, the rate of assaults by student-athletes is out of proportion with the rest of campus society. Student-athletes are just 4 percent of the average campus population, but they commit 19 percent of reported sexual assaults.
"The Hunting Ground" features a prominent victim of that 19 percent: Erica Kinsman, the woman by whom Winston has been accused of rape, who speaks for the first time without the condition of anonymity. Kinsman was a pre-med freshman at Florida State when she was allegedly attacked by Winston.
Kinsman goes into graphic detail when recounting her attack by Winston, as well as the intense backlash she faced when she tried to bring her case to authorities, including the university and Tallahassee police.
"All these people were praising [Winston] ... and calling me a slut, a whore," says Kinsman, according to The Daily Beast. Later, Kinsman goes on to say, "I kind of just want to know, why me? It doesn't really make sense."
According to Kinsman, the night of her alleged attack by Winston started at Potbelly's, a popular Tallahassee drinking establishment. While there, she was bought a shot by a man and drank it. Shortly thereafter, she began to feel woozy. The memories that follow are hazy: A taxi brought her to an apartment where a man climbed on top of her and began having sex with her. Amid her pleading for the man to stop, a roommate entered the bedroom and also asked him to stop.
The attacker ignored his roommate and brought the woman into the bathroom, where he pinned her head against the tile floor and finished raping her.
Kinsman tells the cameras that when he was done, he told her, "You can leave now."
The attacker dropped Kinsman off at an intersection she knew, and the freshman reported the rape and had a rape kit performed.
Not until the first day of the spring semester did Kinsman discover her attacker's identity. He turned up in the roll call of one of her classes.
It was Winston.
At this point, Kinsman's fate was in the hands of police and investigators. A Tallahassee officer was assigned to her case. That officer -- Scott Angulo -- was an FSU graduate and a former employee for the Seminole Boosters fundraising organization.
Kinsman's legal representation notes a wide range of shortcomings in Angulo's work: He didn't interview Winston or get a DNA sample from the quarterback, didn't question the taxi driver who brought them both to Winston's apartment, didn't check video footage from Potbelly's -- where 30 security cameras are in operation -- and didn't question the alleged roommate who saw the attack.
Almost a year later, a DNA sample was finally acquired from Winston. It matched the DNA collected in Kinsman's rape kit.
The lazy rebuttal here is that one episode does not make an epidemic. But Winston is far -- as far as you can get -- from an isolated case in Tallahassee, Florida. Grantland's Charles P. Pierce recently noted that Florida State football players get every benefit of the doubt, and every gracious break, at law enforcement's disposal -- along with several other mulligans that the justice system isn't designed to afford.
The documentary indicates a number of reasons why college administrations are reluctant to tackle the issue: Damaged university reputations, the prospect of legal battles, and -- in the case of athletes -- the possible threat of boosters pulling their financial support.
The minority of women who do bring their assaults to campus officials receive responses that range from ignoring the problem to coaching the female one what she could have done differently. At one point in the documentary, assault survivor Annie Clark discusses the horror she experienced at the hands of a campus employee.
"So when I was assaulted in 2007, I was actually met with a very victim-blaming response and I wasn't even trying to formally report," she says. "I was actually just trying to get resources. I talked to one campus employee and she gave me this extended metaphor about how rape was like a football game and I was the quarterback in charge and what would I have done differently in that situation."
That's the response Clark got for just seeking help in the aftermath of her attack. One can imagine the response if she were to demand justice from the institution.
Encounters like this are one main reason why more than 40 percent of campus rapes go unreported. Director Kirby Dick has said that most college administrations take an amazingly similar response to reports of campus violence, hoping to keep things quiet and let inaction put the issue at rest.
The recent rise of campus sexual assault as a major social issue has happened in spite of administrative action. Instead, the film credits the ingenuity of some smart student victims.
According to producer Amy Ziering, female students have been using Title IX complaints as a means of forcing investigations and action. The legislation best known for its affect on the college sports landscape is being used because it demands that women have an equal opportunity to earn an education. A woman who is victimized by a campus sexual assault and then ignored by campus administration, they argue, is being denied this opportunity.
Although it felt like a longshot, the U.S. Department of Education agreed with this interpretation of Title IX, and began launching investigations. As of last month, Ziering said 97 schools were being investigated for Title IX violations.
"The Hunting Ground" focuses on a handful of sexual assault cases ignored, covered up, or even combated by major universities. Along with incidents at Florida State, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Oregon, the film zeroes in on the assault of Lizzy Seeberg, a freshman at St. Mary's College in Indiana. Seeberg was allegedly assaulted by a Notre Dame football player in 2010, and she filed a complaint with the school.
The investigation was a joke: School officials actively tried to disrupt and complicate inquiries into the matter, and a former Notre Dame police officer told the documentary crew that the police were barred from questioning athletes while on athletic property.
Two days after her assault, Seeberg -- who battled depression and an anxiety disorder -- received a text from one of her alleged attacker's friends. According to the Chicago Tribune, the text read, "Don't do anything you would regret. Messing with notre dame football is a bad idea."
Ten days after her attack, Seeberg committed suicide. Her alleged attacker, who was later revealed to be then-starting linebacker named Prince Shembo, now plays for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons and told reporters last year, "My name was pretty much cleared."
Dick, the director, says university administrations are paralyzed with fear. They don't want any involvement in the sexual assault because they're afraid of the fallout. It isn't an issue that schools seem concerned with attacking head-on, and the status quo of inaction is a long-running habit that has proven tough to overturn.
Still, the clamor for change has never been louder -- and "The Hunting Ground" is coming out at the perfect time to push the conversation to a boiling point.
The pending turning of the tides might be best characterized by sportswriter Kate Fagan's response to "The Hunting Ground," which left her pondering her own culpability as a sports industry professional.
"Who will be the first college president to say 'enough is enough?'" writes Fagan. "Who will be the first president to care more about the individuals actually on their campus than the potential applicants and the alumni with deep pockets?
"I'd buy a sweatshirt from that school!"
The Hunting Ground opens nationwide on March 20. CNN will also broadcast the documentary in its entirety.