Is Winston the problem child for Tampa Bay?

by Gary Shelton on July 6, 2018 · 2 comments

in general

Winston finds himself along with his troubles./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston finds himself alone with his troubles./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Buffalo had O.J. Simpson.

New England had Aaron Hernandez.

St. Louis had Lawrence Phillips.

Bad guys can happen anywhere to any team in any town. A team screens players, and it talks to them, and it talks to their teammates. And still, trouble gets past the gate.

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It is like an unlucky lottery. You draft a guy, and you imagine touchdowns and highlights. And the phone call comes, and he's making headlines for the wrong reasons.

And now, for the big question. Is Jameis Winston our athlete to be ashamed of?

Somewhere in silence, judgment awaits Winston. Reports say he is telling friends that he is not guilty of groping a female Uber driver, but the league suspended him, and he apologized ... for something. Some have called for him to be released already; no one knows what the Bucs will do when his contract is up.

And as Winston's future spins out of control, you think of the other athletes gone wrong..

Carolina had Rae Carruth.

New Orleans had Darren Sharper.

Los Angelos had Darryl Henley.

For the most part, Tampa Bay has escaped the horrible headlines that appear other places. Booker Reese did some time in jail, and Aqib Talib's headline-making ran him out of town. Don Smith ran afoul of the law. There was Michael Pittman and David Boston and Darrell Russell.

But most of the troubles with the Bucs' players have been that they simply weren't as good as they were projected to be. That happens, and you learn to live with it. We've seen our share of busts.

And, we've seen honest-to-goodness good guys. Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks and John Lynch and Mike Alstott. That's how we prefer our athletes: Great on the field, great off of it.

When a player makes you sad that your team ever drafted him, it's hard. When you refuse to wear his jersey. When you rub your neck and change the subject when his name comes up.

Oh, even now, you can imagine the Bucs' spinning away at Winston's troubles, how he can avoid the questions, how he can endure the fallout. You watch. He'll play dodgeball with the questions, which will be a mistake. He'll try to win his way back into good graces, which will take a while.

Atlanta had Michael Vick.

Dallas had Nate Newton.

Indianapolis had Art Schlichster.

Is Winston a good guy? Who knows, really? He can be an engaging guy, and he can be friendly and insightful. But at his core, is he a good guy or a guy who loses control?

In the aftermath of Winston's suspension, the stories have been as extreme as you can imagine. A columnist immediately called for him to be released, although that's never happened elsewhere. Fan sites seem more intent on scolding that columnist than addressing Winston's behavior, as if they're ready to give him a merit-badge.

So what should the Bucs do?

First, they should acknowledge that they have a problem on their hands. Cutting him seems rash, but paying him seems foolish. So you bide your time, and you get him counseling, whether he wants to go or not. You have him work with the victims of sex abuse, if anyone will have him. You take up on his vow to stop drinking; you test him.

One thing seems certain. The Bucs didn't take the previous controversies of Winston seriously enough. He was barely in the NFL when the Uber ride occurred. All those promises he made to the Bucs were just words.

Look, a bad guy can happen to any team. No one knows how big money and celebrity and entitlement are going to affect a player.

But I believe that the best organizations handle controversy better. They know when to ride it out. They know when to cut a player loose.

Pittsburgh had Ben Rothlisberger.

Philadelphia had Kevin Allen.

The Raiders had Anthony Smith.

On and on, the rap sheet grows. There is so much to be embarrassed about, so much shame to go around.

In Tampa Bay, we have Jameis Winston.

There have been better times.

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