State attorney Willie Meggs announced Thursday that no charges would be filed against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in relation to an alleged sexual assault, and after three weeks of silence while the investigation was ongoing, the Heisman hopeful’s family is eager to finally speak out in his defense.
Winston’s father, Antonor, said the family never worried about the outcome of Meggs’ investigation, but the weeks of media scrutiny proved a damaging experience.
“It’s been really frustrating and very stressful,” Antonor Winston said. “The media has almost scandalized our son’s name, and to do that when he hasn’t even gotten charged. The only thing he’s done is shown his character and been himself, and for me and my wife, it really hurt us. … People have to understand, he has a momma and daddy just like the accuser does. People have to understand that. That’s what I want to get out.”
The accusations against Jameis Winston first became public Nov. 13 -- more than 11 months after the incident was first reported to police -- and details of the investigation remained sketchy until Meggs announced his decision Thursday.
In the interim, Antonor Winston said his son’s reputation was damaged by an onslaught of criticism, rumors and speculation.
“We never could’ve imagined something coming down like this, but it’s a part of learning,” Antonor Winston said. “We thank God for allowing us to come through this. But for Jameis to go farther in the process, we pretty much had to go through this. But I’m pretty sure that from now on, our circle is going to be very, very small. We hate to be that way, but it’ll be smaller than ever before.”
Numerous high-profile attorneys have already contacted the family about pursuing litigation for the damage done to Jameis’s reputation, but at this point Antonor Winston said the family simply wants to put the investigation behind it.
“I’m fixing to sit down and relax,” he said. “I’m not looking for revenge. But the only thing I really want to put out there is that it was really unfair to Jameis how the media scrutinized his name without any facts.”
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher informed the team before practice Thursday that no charges would be filed against Winston, and the quarterback released a statement through the school saying he was eager to shift focus back to the football field.
“It's been difficult to stay silent through this process, but I never lost faith in the truth and in who I am,” Jameis Winston said. “I’m very relieved I'll be able to continue my education at Florida State and I'm excited I can now get back to helping our team achieve its goals.”
On Thursday, Fisher raved about Winston's maturity throughout the investigation, saying his focus never wavered from football.
Linebacker Telvin Smith said the team had rallied around Winston, but was glad the dark cloud had finally been lifted.
“That’s huge just because that part of the clutter, that’s gone," Smith said. "Now what are you going to say about the team? We’re just going to keep fighting, keep playing.”
Winston is a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and Florida State is currently atop the BCS standings, with a meeting with Duke in Saturday’s ACC championship game likely the last impediment to a berth in the national championship game.
While the accusations threatened to derail Jameis' Heisman campaign, Antonor Winston said his son navigated the past few weeks well.
“Jameis was fine because he was around a lot of great people,” he said. “It was his mother and me listening to all the persecution. But it’s easy to go through something when you know you’re innocent.”
Jameis Winston had declined to comment publicly on the investigation, but he continued to meet with media and, on the field, led Florida State to wins over Syracuse, Idaho and Florida, while setting the school record for touchdown passes in a season.
Winston’s high school coach, Matt Scott, was in attendance for the Syracuse game and has kept in touch with his former player regularly. He said Winston’s focus on football helped him avoid the media scrutiny.
“That’s the thing I’ve always appreciated about him -- he’s going to be him,” Scott said. “Some people are going to like it. Some people are not. But there’s nothing hidden in the closet. Whatever you see is what you’re going to get.”
Antonor Winston said his son was thoroughly vetted by media during his high-profile recruitment in high school, and he was disappointed to see so much criticism before a decision was made on whether Jameis would be charged.
Scott said he was frustrated by suggestions that Winston had been given special treatment because of his status as a star quarterback and high-profile recruit, insisting that had never occurred during Winston’s career at Hueytown High School in Alabama.
“Anybody that would say that he got the five-star treatment or favoritism, those types of things in high school, I can assure you they either were not there or it’s someone that’s jealous of his success,” Scott said. “Because that was not the case at all.”
But both Antonor Winston and Scott said they were not worried about the outcome of the case.
“I knew he was going to come out on top, and I knew he’d breathe a sigh of relief,” Antonor Winston said of his son. “Now he’s got to refocus himself from that forcefield to going back to being Jameis. And Jameis is going to be fine. But I just think this starts the healing process.”