Florida State's year of controversy actually began in December 2012, when quarterback Jameis Winston allegedly raped a fellow student. And here, in many cases, is where the narrative of that night begins and ends, because, as a New York Times piece on the subsequent investigation states, "There was virtually no investigation at all." At the time, Winston wasn't interviewed, and his DNA wasn't collected. The officer in charge of the investigation didn't pursue potential video evidence, and it later emerged that he moonlighted for the Seminole Boosters. (Two university employees told me they believed the Boosters were handling all of Winston's legal fees.) Perhaps worst of all, the victim in question was told that Tallahassee "is a big football town" and that "she would be raked over the coals" if she pressed charges.
"Big football town" is an understatement. FSU is the heart of Tallahassee, and generations of fans and alumni find reasons never to leave, intensifying the dedication to the school through decades. Unlike Miami, there are no other good distractions; Tallahassee is landlocked and dreadfully dull. Unlike Gainesville, it's not so dull that people immediately flee upon graduation; the seat of state government gives people reasons to stay for entire careers. Even by Florida football standards, it's a little nuts. There's a cemetery for sod taken from fields where FSU has won critical away games.
"Raked over the coals" is an understatement, too. After being doxxed by Winston's attorney, the victim's appearance and character has been truly befouled as only the Internet can. The fact that she dated a football player only proved that she was a cleat-chaser who couldn't possibly have been raped and must have been asking for it. Naturally she was trying to become rich and famous for being raped, because that's a thing women do, and that's a thing that happens afterward. She was drinking earlier in the evening and even being social with Winston. No woman has ever been raped by someone they knew or drank with.
Years ago, I worked as a legal videographer in Florida and lost count of the number of attorneys who would brag to me about being in X, Y or Z team's Rolodex as a person to call to make a problem go away. (A problem might be Jameis Winston's shoplifting crab legs, a stupid act of athlete entitlement that says nothing about him because it could be the act of any athlete at any big FBS school.) Most of those guys were full of shit, but every program has several versions of that guy. Their jobs are to disappear issues that people can engage, because they know that every program's fanbase will do the work of pardoning it.
On the thoughtful side, that can take the form of one father of a female FSU student being hesitant to judge Jameis Winston because he didn't feel he had enough facts. And that is the point. On the nasty side, partisan Internet hangouts trashing Winston's accuser will still bang away about Cam Newton's stolen laptop or Aaron Hernandez potentially "getting away with murder" in Gainesville, and none of them – not once – will ask how they would react if the same set of accusations leveled against Winston were leveled against a quarterback at Alabama, Auburn, Florida or LSU. And that is also the point.
That's the gift of not knowing, and that's why the year of FSU football has been as hysteric and awful as it has. Because it's easy to perceive yourself as the victim in the absence of any real reckoning with data. The problem can be ESPN's bias or national media hatchet men or disingenuous smear artists from other fanbases. And if there is no crime, there is no fan or citizen complicity in its cover-up to feel contrition for. You can exist in a tone-deaf wasteland, one surpassing all in its preposterousness. To paraphrase heavily from a complaint made by Buzzfeed's excellent Joel D. Anderson on Twitter: Nothing describes the insane corrupting power of big-time college football like a black athlete being accused of raping a white woman in the capital of a former state of the Confederacy, and – contrary to centuries of history telling us what happens next – the levers of both the city and university justice system bending to preserve him from scrutiny.