Jameis Winston is talented, but he’s also tainted by transgressions

SHARE Jameis Winston is talented, but he’s also tainted by transgressions
SHARE Jameis Winston is talented, but he’s also tainted by transgressions

Jameis Winston is coming to visit the Bears on Wednesday, and I really don’t know what to think.

Yes, the meeting is likely a pro forma chat session, mere due diligence on the Bears’ part that follows the usual NFL pre-draft script at this time of year.

But Winston is a troubling figure. A polarizing one.

He may be an incredibly talented young man who has abruptly grown up, or he may be a flawed person who got away with sexual assault due to his fame and Heisman Trophy-winning reputation in football-mad Tallahassee, Florida.

It’s even possible he is a man whose reputation has been smeared unfairly and who was wrongfully accused of rape, the college and societal crime du jour.

But I doubt it.

Rape accusations can be unfounded and vengeful or flat-out crazy. But some studies have suggested that over 90 percent of them are real and authentic.

We should never punish the innocent just because the guilty are plentiful and the net hauls in everybody. But something happened down there in Tallahassee almost three years ago, and it just seems unlikely that Winston’s female accuser was making up her claims.

Why would she do that? For future money down the road? It seems a tough way to make a living.

But who knows?

The Bears will hardly have a chance to draft Winston — unless they make some kind of crazy swap to move up to No. 1 in the draft from their No. 7 spot — so the possibility of the former BCS National Championship winner coming to the team are miniscule.

But if Winston were available, if the Bears decided current quarterback Jay Cutler must be replaced by a rare talent available this year only, would he even be welcomed in Chicago by the public at large?

Should he be?

Innocent until proven guilty, yes. But Winston has made other mistakes that force one to wonder about his ethical makeup.

He stole some crab legs from a supermarket. He stood on his chair at a school cafeteria and shouted a supposedly amusing sexual obscenity not long after prosecutors decided not to charge him after the rape allegations.

He was stopped by police at gunpoint when he and another player claimed they were using the pellet gun in their possession only to shoot at squirrels. Soon after that, he and a couple other players damaged their apartment complex while involved in a BB gun ‘‘battle.’’ The landlord wanted Winston tossed out, but Florida State arranged matters so the players got to stay in their apartments after paying for the broken things.

There was more. Winston was also implicated in an alleged scheme at a local Burger King. An employee said Winston and pals were stealing soda in ketchup cups.

Silly kid stuff? (After all, he was the youngest Heisman winner in history, at just 19.) Or a look inside a damaged product? (He is 21 now, a man by any definition.)

We don’t know, though there are Winston demonizers and defenders out there aplenty. Still, getting through college — even when you are leaving with two years of eligibility left — shouldn’t be so filled with juvenile and/or criminal moments.

Winston’s arm, running ability, gamesmanship, athletic skill and vision all are outstanding. Indeed, he presents himself well on camera, speaks well, and seems to be — in the way we make these quick and facile decisions — intelligent.

But we have Ray Rice and his domestic abuse to think about. And Milton Bradley. And Adrian Peterson’s issues.

We are fresh off the Johnny Manziel-to-rehab disaster in Cleveland.

And somebody can bring up, as I will, the terrible and entitled sporting career of onetime superstar Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips, who was drafted No. 6 overall in 1996 by the Rams and is now serving 31 years in prison for, among other things, choking his girlfriend, and is suspected of killing his cellmate Saturday.

There is this thing sportswiters and others in the sports business will ask each other about athletes they’re not familiar with.

‘‘What’s he like?’’

And the answer will be varied and layered, except for this: ‘‘He’s just a bad guy.’’

People know these things about those they work with or interview with depth and precision. Bears president George McCaskey claims to know the good stuff about recently signed defensive end Ray McDonald, the guy the 49ers thought was too troubled to keep.

I wonder what McCaskey will think about Winston, if he talks to him at all.

Falsely accused good guy, a scapegoat like that fraternity in the recent but now-demolished Rolling Stone story by an alleged gang-rape victim?

Or bad guy?

Don’t know. But do care.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander

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