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But when it comes to his reputation, any on-the-field heroics or off-the-field antics are dwarfed by an accusation of sexual assault leveled against him by a classmate in 2012.
With Friday marking one year since the allegations came to light, the handling of Winston’s case continues to raise questions. Last December, the school announced that no formal charges would be filed against Winston due to a lack of evidence, but The New York Times later found irregularities in the state attorney's investigation, including Tallahassee police never interviewing Winston or collecting a DNA samples from him.
In April,the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation to find out whether Florida State violated the federal civil rights law Title IX, which has specific requirements for how schools handle sexual assault reports. Last month, Florida State University finally addressed its own "deliberate silence" around the case and admitted its athletics department failed to notify school officials when it learned about the accusation back in January of last year. On the school's Title IX website, Florida State simply described Winston as “a prominent athlete.”
“This will be a game changer, and it will be remembered,” Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson College, told USA Today last month. “These are the moments when things appear in the sky so that everyone can see them and we can all learn together.”
Schools and athletic programs have already begun to step up their public efforts in addressing and disciplining student-athletes accused of sex crimes. In September, the NCAA, as well as conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12, joined President Obama's "It's On Us" campaign, designed to help stop the culture of campus sexual assault. Over the summer, the NCAA issued a new handbook outlining the role athletics departments should have in overseeing sexual violence cases. In the handbook, the NCAA placed extra emphasis on its mission to educate student-athletes, report instances of sexual assault immediately and assure compliance for these matters is at its highest level.
Still, lingering concerns that student-athletes are granted special treatment in these proceedings reached all the way to Capitol Hill. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released a survey in July that found that 22 percent of universities have procedures in place to allow their respective athletics departments to oversee sexual assault allegations made against student-athletes. McCaskill described the discovery as “borderline outrageous.”
In the year since the Winston case was made public, some schools have tightened up their response toward sexual violence investigations involving student-athletes. But across the NCAA, the response has remained inconsistent, with some schools, and even their respective football teams, welcoming back those student-athletes. With sexual assault commanding so much attention in college athletics, America Tonight explored some of the most significant cases involving student-athletes in the past year.
The University of Oklahoma
Three months after the Oklahoma Sooners ended their season with a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, a star linebacker became the first football player to make headlines in the offseason for all the wrong reasons. After leaving a Jan. 20 party with a female student, Frank Shannon allegedly attempted to forcibly have sex with her in his bedroom.
The district attorney initially declined to prosecute him, but OU found that Shannon had violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy and suspended the junior linebacker for a year. But Shannon received a stay from the county district court, allowing him to stay enrolled and on the team. His case went to the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, which upheld the original one-year suspension in August.
The University of Wisconsin
Dominic Cizauskas was regarded as one of Wisconsin's top high school football players, selected by a coaches association as the state's defensive player of the year in 2013. A two-sport athlete, he was verbally committed to play for the University of Wisconsin-Madison's football team. But three months after a December 2013 recruiting visit to the main campus, Cizauskas was charged with sexually assaulting an acquaintance during that official visit.
According to the criminal complaint, Cizauskas arrived at the victim's dorm room on Dec. 14 despite her objections shared via text messages, entered her unlocked room, told her he had consumed 10 shots of liquor that night and then sexually assaulted her.
The charges in March came just days after he played for his high school in the state basketball playoffs at the arena on the Madison campus. The university's chancellor decided that although the 18-year-old was banned from campus, an exception was made for him to play in the game.
Cizauskas was not listed on the football program's official recruiting class. In August, he was found guilty of one count of third-degree sexual assault and later sentenced to a year in jail, followed by three years of probation. The victim and Cizauskas both testified that they had a sexual relationship prior to that night, but the victim told the court that she wasn't interested in sex with Cizauskas again.
"Here is a young woman who trusted you," the judge told Cizauskas, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "She thought you were her friend and she let you in and without her consent and over her continuous objections, you trampled on her rights and the sentence has to reflect that."
Shortly before finals week in April, two Brown University football players were ordered to leave the Ivy League campus after they were accusedofsexually assaulting an incapacitated freshman female student from nearby Providence College in November 2013. In the accuser’s police report, filed in February, she said that “she felt that she was drugged” after having just one shot of alcohol and water. “Her arms and body fell limp,” the police report said. According to the Providence Journal, after she was carried out of the bar by one of the two students,the freshman woke up in a university dorm room that night,and one of the freshman football players asked to have sex with her. The woman, who did not consent to the sexual act, was then photographed, with the photo later being distributed online, according to her lawyer.
In July, the two players were removed from the football program. A third was implicated, but was not presented as part of the grand jury case. In August, a grand jury chose not to indict the students. Two of the players returned to campus as full-time students in September, and the player who was not a part of the grand jury’s case was allowed back on the roster. The third player – one who was initially implicated in the case –chose not to return to the school.
The University of Texas
When Charlie Strong took over as head coach of the Texas Longhorns, he brought along a set of five core values. One of them – treating women with respect – came into play early when two wide receivers were arrested and charged with sexual assault in July.
After a June night on Austin’s Sixth Street, Montrel Meander agreed to have consensual sex with a female student in his dorm room. Soon, Meander’s teammate Kendall Sanders knocked on the door and Meander let him in. According to court documents, the woman said she didn’t want to have sex with Sanders, but he forced himself on her, and both Meander and Sanders “forcibly penetrated the victim” at the same time. The woman suspected she was being recorded and left the room. Police later found her crying under a desk on campus, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Strong dismissed the players from the program, and Meander and Sanders still have to go through the university's judiciary process. They also have court hearings scheduled in Travis County District Court. If convicted, they both face sentences of up to 20 years and fines of up to $10,000.
The University of Miami
A sexual violence scandal rattled another Florida football powerhouse this year. Two Miami Hurricanes, Alexander Figueroa and JaWand Blue, were arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a “mentally or physically incapacitated” 17-year-old girl on campus in July.
The players admitted to police that they bought alcoholic drinks for the girl, a Miami freshman, and brought her to Figueroa’s dorm room. According to the police report, the girl, who was “physically helpless to resist” due to a “narcotic, anesthetic, or other intoxicating substance,” had oral, vaginal and anal sex with the two players, and didn’t give her consent. Not long after the girl reported the incident to police, Coral Gables Police arrested the linebackers, and the university kicked them off the team and suspended them from school indefinitely.
The University of Florida
Winston's rivals in Gainesville, Florida, also had their starting quarterback caught up in a sexual assault investigation. Last month, a female classmate at the University of Florida filed a sexual battery complaint against freshman quarterback Treon Harris. He was immediately given an “interim suspension,” meaning he was banned from campus and all team activities.
Harris’ fortunes soon changed. Later that week, his accuser decided not to pursue charges and withdrew her complaint. Harris was cleared to return to the Gators. The woman's credibility also took a beating. Harris’ lawyers insisted she was the sexual aggressor and the police reported that she “showed no indication of any physical or mental trauma." Harris missed just one game and returned on Oct. 18.
The University of Kentucky
Also in October, Lloyd Tubman, Kentucky’s 6-foot-5, 225-pound freshman defensive end, was arrested on charges of allegedly raping a female student in a residence hall. According to the arrest citation, the female accuser checked Tubman into her dorm while she was writing a paper. A verbal altercation between the two soon turned physical and allegedly became sexually violent. According to WKYT, the victim was visibly and emotionally shaken when police arrived after receiving her 911 call.
Tubman pleaded not guilty to the rape charges and a grand jury is expected to hear and review them. In the meantime, Tubman is suspended indefinitely from the football program.
Alcorn State University
Much has been made about the NCAA lacking a standard policy for student-athletes arrested or convicted on sexual assault charges, with experts saying that student-athletes have been able to transfer freely to avoid consequences. Jamil Cooks, who made Alcorn State's football team after being convicted by a court marshal panel for a sexual assault charge at the Air Force Academy, brought that loophole to the forefront again.
In early 2012, a woman accused Cooks of forcing her into sexual acts in an Air Force dorm room in May 2011. Late last year, Cooks was also accused of unlawfully entering dorm rooms of two other female cadets, according to The (Colorado Springs) Gazette. After Cooks was convicted for abusive sexual contact for those incidents and kicked out of the military, he transferred. In early September, he was named Alcorn State's male athlete of the week.
In a statement given to America Tonight, Jamil Cooks’ lawyer maintained his client’s innocence and his right to attend Alcorn State.
“Alcorn State determined Jamil should be given an opportunity to attend their University and he has been a positive student athlete there since enrolling," he wrote. "That is a success story that should be applauded rather than being blindly or politically ridiculed.”
School officials told ABC News that they have no problem with him enrolling – reaffirming an odd precedent set by the athletics program last year. Jaborian McKenzie, another football player who transferred in, was temporarily removed from the roster after the school discovered he was dismissed from Vanderbilt for aggravated rape and sexual battery charges. The Clarion-Ledger reported that McKenzie is back on the roster and has played in most games this season. The university gave no explanation for why it reinstated McKenzie, only offering a general statement: “Alcorn State University has decided that Jaborian McKenzie, a student since 2013, will compete as a student-athlete on the 2014 Braves football team.”