Jameis Winston stole some crab legs from a grocery store. He got about $30 worth of shellfish from the seafood counter at a Publix, walked out without paying and was tracked down by police shortly thereafter because he might have the most recognizable frame and face in the whole of Tallahassee. He basically got off with a ticket — he has to reimburse the Publix and do 20 hours of community service — due to the fact that his criminal record is clean. It’s worth mentioning there’s a considerable amount of evidence his record is clean because Tallahassee cops couldn’t be bothered to properly investigate an alleged rape he committed in December 2012.
I wish this story could be as delightfully high-jinksy as it is seems on paper. Florida State’s star quarterback goes into a supermarket and tries to smuggle out some crab legs without thinking about how half the people there know him by name. He has to release a full-blown lawyer-vetted apology that reads like a robot with a persecution complex wrote it. He misses a few baseball games. The incident mostly blows over except for some inspired disparaging signage the next time the ‘Noles travel to NC State. Things like this happen all the time in the world of big-time college sports, because it’s inhabited by 20-year-olds, and 20-year-olds are known to do some spectacularly dumb things.
To my bemusement, large swaths of the sports media have treated Winston’s petty theft as if it’s the doing of some workaday knucklehead. There have been arguments about how indiscretions like these may one day cost Winston millions of dollars, and Peter King has done that effortlessly uninsightful thing where he hems and haws for three straight minutes without saying anything. We have a take on what sort of sage wisdom a man named Jimbo is going to lend to a deeply, deeply troubled young man. (I’ll take a guess: Knock it the hell off.) Stern scoldings have been handed down, because it’s time to grow up, sonny. Meme and Photoshop-based sports yukkery have polluted Twitter.
These templates, which are ways of talking about news without making it mean anything, are annoying enough when applied to some ephemeral happening, but Winston doesn’t really produce ephemeral happenings anymore. Everything he does and says is part of a larger narrative. He is also just an intensely weird guy.
The most recent national championship, which Winston won on a touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, was the sort of game that tends to swim through your head for a while afterward. You stick around for the highlights to try to feel what you felt in real time again. But shortly after Winston sidled up next to Tom Rinaldi and adopted a stomach-churningly messianic tone, I stopped concerning myself with the game. My mind, as Winston was bugging out his eyes and talking hyper-sincerely about God and haters, went to whether or not he thought he’d done anything wrong on that night in December. He wasn’t talking about the incident, obviously, but this was one of those moments where the narrative was hanging over the scene like a pall. Winston was obliquely referencing the accusations, whether he meant to with the phrase “all that we’ve been through” or not. At any rate, he seemed to have delusions of grandeur, and not in a typical cocky athlete way.
I can only see Winston through the prism of the rape saga and the way he acted after that game. I’ve watched other interviews with him, but they don’t give me sharp, strange truth like the one with Rinaldi did. Maybe the crab heist statement has some truth in it: “I realize I am in the public spotlight and my conduct needs to be above reproach.” That’s some haughtily bitter lawyerese. I doubt Winston wrote a word of it. But it’s close to something he would say. If you listen to him talk enough, he seems to look at life as a series of obstacles that must be overcome as he strives for excellence. Thinking about a shoplifting incident this way is comically absurd, but it’s similarly — if more darkly — absurd to conceive of a rape allegation as a cosmic hurdle.
Jameis Winston stole some crab legs from a supermarket. It’s a funny story, but, however we want to interpret it, it contributes in some way to our understanding of a bizarre and intermittently terrifying stranger.