NYT: FSU Athletes get Preferential Treatment

FOX Sports and the New York Times each published pieces on Friday about the Tallahassee Police Department’s (TPD) handling (and mishandling) of cases involving Florida State football players. Here we’ll look at the Times’ report.

Unlike the FOX Sports report, the New York Times’ story on Tallahassee law enforcement’s relationship with FSU football doesn’t focus specifically on the Jameis Winston case.

Instead, the Times’ report focuses primarily on two things: 1) a long-running BB/pellet gun war among FSU football players that has resulted in property damage but no criminal charges until very recently (more below) and 2) indications that domestic abuse by players has gone unreported or been overlooked by law enforcement.

On the BB gun battles, the Times highlights three incidents in which FSU football players fired CO2 powered BB or pellet guns in public areas in what appears to have been a long-running battle among different groups of teammates. This has finally resulted in Dalvin Cook, Trey Marshall, and Bobo Wilson all being charged with criminal mischief related to the third incident, which broke car windows and caused other property damage.

It's worth noting that these sorts of battles go all the way back to my time at Florida State, when it was paintball guns and not Airsoft or BB guns. It was a fun diversion for some of the players at that point, but even then they had to be warned not to engage in such activities in places like parking lots.

The gist of the story is that Tallahassee law enforcement gives Florida State football players special treatment even when there are clear indications of wrongdoing. And to the Times’ credit, most of these stories do indeed suggest just that. Of course, no one who has ever lived in a college town, particularly one with a major athletics program, will be surprised by this fact.

It is a sad reality that high-profile figures tend to get the benefit of the doubt in such matters while those lacking money or prestige do not. As the TPD itself asserted, FSU football players get the same treatment as other high-profile figures such as local business owners or politicians. This is, of course, a different standard than what would get applied to a typical low-income teenager from Frenchtown, a poorer area in Tallahassee.

In one sense, there are good reasons for this. For example, if a high-profile figure gets arrested for something he or she did not do, that arrest is likely to have a significantly negative impact on that person’s life, regardless of the person’s innocence. Combined with the easy recognizance of higher-profile figures, this should probably make law enforcement less likely to arrest on an initial report. A person’s status should, however, never impact the investigation of a case, but that is unfortunately not the way it works.

That said, one other consideration is that college students in general tend to get a pass for stupidity from law enforcement. Things like BB gun fights and other stupid public stunts get passed over with warnings or significantly reduced charges, much like this story shows for FSU athletes.

The truly concerning piece, however, regards domestic abuse and the indications of situations where it has either gone unreported or not been adequately investigated when a complaint has actually been made. It goes without saying that this is something that the university, the athletic department, and law enforcement should take very seriously.

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