The Price Of Silence: Jameis Winston, Erica Kinsman and Florida State University

by Anthony Harrison


How much would you pay to hush your accuser?

Florida State University and Erica Kinsman settled on the figure of $950,000.

And Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t have to pay a cent of that sum.

Back in December of 2012, Winston allegedly raped Kinsman, a first-year pre-med student, after meeting and taking shots at a Tallahassee bar. At that time, Winston was a redshirted freshman quarterback for the FSU Seminoles football team; in other words, he was a practicing member of the team, but didn’t perform in games his first season to extend his eligible time with ’Noles. The next year, he became the youngest recipient of the Heisman Trophy, the leader of the Seminoles’ campaign to the national championship the following year and the first pick of the 2015 NFL draft, receiving a four-year contract exceeding $25 million.

Kinsman, on the other hand, ended her education at Florida State in 2013 following withering harassment from the student body, apathy from both the university and the Tallahassee Police Department, scorn from national sports pundits like Skip Bayless, even anonymous death threats. Her withdrawal from classes led to Kinsman’s suit against FSU in 2015, claiming the university’s refusal to officially investigate her allegations against Winston violated federal law under Title IX, protecting students from discrimination on the basis of sex.

Following the settlement, Florida State, for its part, promises to establish a sexual violence task force and publish annual reports and findings collected from a campus-wide rape-awareness campaign stylized as “kNOw MORE.” The university also hired a Title IX coordinator, the school’s first full-time employee at this position.

However, all of this fallout from Kinsman’s settlement begs additional questions.

Why didn’t Florida State University already retain a full-time employee addressing a vitally important point of student rights?

Why didn’t Florida State — a perennially infamous party school — already support a rape-awareness campaign, or even have a sexual violence task force?

Why did the school and its campus security allow Kinsman’s abuse to continue to the point where she felt the need to end her education at FSU?

Why didn’t the university admonish those who cast shade on Kinsman?

And finally, why didn’t the university and the Tallahassee Police Department join forces to investigate the claims made by a clearly distressed young woman?

The answer to that final question should be readily apparent: A star football player’s reputation proved more valuable to Florida State University, the city of Tallahassee and the state of Florida than an ordinary woman’s life.

Kinsman’s complaint against FSU claimed that the university “concealed and obstructed the sexual assault investigation so that Mr. Winston could play football,” according to her attorneys’ official statement. Of course, the settlement ends that argument in the legal sphere.

But there’s no arguing the fact that Florida State failed to conduct any sort of disciplinary conduct hearing for Winston until December 2014, two years after the assault. Winston was cleared of any misbehavior, thus allowing him to helm the Seminole’s defeat in the national championship a few days later.

After all, he is innocent until proven guilty.

On that front, the school’s failure to punish Winston in the slightest for even suspicion of sexual assault — a charge they were aware of within a month — pales in comparison to the Tallahassee Police Department’s lack of initiative in Kinsman’s charges.

Kinsman’s story remained consistent under scrutiny. The rape kit, administered at a hospital the night of the assault, tested positive. Even Winston’s teammate Ronald Darby claimed he told Winston to stop forcing himself on Kinsman and recalled Kinsman was saying, “No,” during the assault.

Yet, after that rape kit sat unexamined for 10 months — after Jameis Winston began his nearly undefeated career with the Seminoles — the police claimed there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges against the new town hero.

Finally, Kinsman claimed in the campus-rape documentary The Hunting Ground that when she first filed a complaint with the Tallahassee police, Officer Scott Angulo told her, “This is a huge football town. You really should think long and hard if you want to press charges.”

That states volumes.

It also says plenty that a boggling majority of the funds for Florida State University’s defense — $1.3 million out of the total $1.7 million — was paid by the Seminoles booster club.

Football is big business for cities across the country. It is the most popular sport in America, and has been for some 30 years. But just because so much money changes so many hands cannot mean that phenomenal athletes can act with impunity. At least, it should not.

Jameis Winston’s controversies don’t end with the rape of Erica Kinsman, and he did face penalties for some of his actions. Notably, he stole crab legs from a grocery store and was suspended for three games, then was suspended for another after screaming, “Fuck her right in the pussy!” atop a table in the FSU student union.

But for suspected rape? No disciplinary action to speak of. Not even a half-game suspension.

And while theft and obscenity are still crimes, they are not physically violent crimes.

It is disgusting enough that professionals like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or current Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy can proceed with their careers in the face of controversy and claims or legal judgment of violence against women.

A similar salvo of questions asked of Florida State’s settlement can be asked of the NFL’s general attitude.

Why are teams so content with paying these suspected or convicted criminals multi-million-dollar contracts?

Why do some owners choose to retain these players in their organization?

Alternatively, why do others jump at the chance to sign one following their release from another team?

Why are these athletes even allowed to play football after such a damning conviction?

All of this taint and speculation can be nipped in the bud if colleges and universities agree to stand firmly to prosecute players accused of rape or violence against women.

The continued protection and adulation of criminally suspect student-athletes by colleges and universities — institutions which should represent the states which provide them — must end. While Florida State may finally engage in stemming sexual misconduct on its campus, it is but a Band-Aid covering a gashing wound, for Jameis Winston and Florida State’s protection of the young man only further prove the extent to which a patriarchal rape culture pervades American society. And since money seems to be the only punishment, these atrocities can continue unabated, no matter if you start a “kNOw MORE” program.

FSU should have faced more than denied shots at the national championship and side-eyed glances from the discerning public. And instead of receiving honors and a fantastically lucrative career playing a game, Winston should have been pursued to the fullest extent of the law and probably imprisoned.

Kinsman hopes to use the money rewarded to her to pursue her case against Winston, which she officially filed on May 1 of last year — the day after the Buccaneers picked Winston for their new quarterback. Her settlement with FSU proved to be the largest in Title IX litigation history.

Still, was the money for silence reward enough for what could have brought lasting, widespread change?

Image via Tampa Bay Buccaneers

More from BUST

Beta Males Want To Kill Women Because They Can’t Get Laid

An Unbelievable Amount Of NFL Players Have Been Accused Of Physical And Sexual Assault — And Too Many Are Still Playing

She Was Raped. Then She Was Arrested.

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.