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FIRE's Sevcenko: A Closer Look at the Winston Case

College football’s 2013 season is over, but unfortunately the issue of sexual assault on campus is a year-round issue. A few days ago, The Michigan Daily reported that former kicker Brendan Gibbons was expelled from the University of Michigan, soon after he was no longer eligible to play football but years after an alleged sexual assault took place in 2009. Earlier this week, ESPN reported that the University of Missouri failed to investigate allegations of sexual assault against football players raised by a student who later committed suicide. And questions have been raised about whether sexual assault allegations against Florida State University (FSU) quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston were handled differently because of his gridiron success.

The idea that any university would cover up allegations of sexual assault to keep an athlete eligible for play is abhorrent. If a university is caught doing so, it should pay a heavy penalty. But perhaps universities should not be granted such power in the first place. As I argue in an essay posted today on, universities like FSU simply do not have the expertise and resources to handle investigations and adjudications of serious criminal misconduct like sexual assault:

A university is no more qualified to judge guilt or innocence for a serious felony than a district attorney’s office would be to design a protocol for cancer research or teach a course in literary theory. And leaving such serious determinations to unqualified and interested parties like campus administrators can have terrible consequences.

Given this obvious lack of expertise, universities like FSU may reasonably defer to law enforcement’s judgment:

While it may be unusual—and one can speculate about the real reasons for it—FSU’s decision not to punish or pursue Winston for rape is reasonable. (Unless the university is covering something up, of course.) FSU properly deferred to the police and the prosecutor—in other words, to trained law enforcement professionals—who reviewed witness testimony and the evidence gathered by forensic experts. Evidently, based on his legal expertise, the prosecutor concluded that he did not have a sufficient case against Winston for sexual assault. The prosecutor might be right or wrong about this, but making such determinations is the prosecutor’s job—and he may be held accountable for his competence through the democratic process.

You can read the full article here.

Image: Brendan Gibbons - Wikimedia commons

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