A survey of Heisman trophy voters who work for USA TODAY Sports indicates the investigation into Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will not affect his candidacy for the award – yet.
Winston is considered the front-runner for the award, given annually to college football's best player, after leading Florida State to a 9-0 record and a No. 2 rating in the BCS standings. But on Wednesday a Tallahassee, Fla., attorney said he is representing Winston in an investigation of an alleged Dec. 7, 2012 sexual battery. Winston has not been questioned in the matter, nor have there been any charges.
Of 20 voters who responded to a query of whether the existence of the investigation would affect their rating of Winston in the Heisman race, four said it would.
"Certainly voting for a player being investigated for alleged sexual abuse would make me think twice," said Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. "Right now, I don't think I'd vote for him."
Columnist Christine Brennan of USA TODAY Sports said, "it certainly would be a factor to me. It's a privilege to win the Heisman Trophy and any candidate should be deserving of the honor. These allegations are serious and absolutely worthy of our attention."
Winston, only a redshirt freshman, has drawn positive attention for his team leadership and is the face of Florida State's return to national football contention after years of unmet expectations. Along with his emergence as an elite player in college football, he has publicly displayed an affable demeanor that has won him respect and praise locally and nationally.
Steve Bradley of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle was one of four voters who said their votes would be affected if Winston was charged by law enforcement or disciplined by Florida State. Many respondents also said not enough is known about the investigation to compel a change of vote.
"I do believe character should be a component in the full Heisman evaluation," said columnist Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. "But it's imperative that we learn more through the investigation before it has any bearing on my vote."
If Winston were to be charged with a felony, he would be immediately suspended from competition, according to Chapter 201 (A) of the code of conduct in Florida State's Intercollegiate Athletics Policies and Procedures.
Heisman trophy ballots are mailed in late November and are not due until after the conference championship game weekend of Dec. 7. Multiple voters said changing their votes now would be the equivalent of passing judgment on Winston, whose next game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla.
"I will fully confess that a complaint of sexual battery gave me a very long moment of pause," said columnist Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic. "It is allegation, though, nothing else. Allowing the accusation to impact my Heisman rating would be the equivalent of assuming guilt."
Daniel Uthman, USA TODAY Sports' senior editor, colleges, is on Twitter @DanUthman. He is not a Heisman voter.
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