No one should be surprised.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, which means he's under a constant vigil. It's the offseason—not "spring practice" offseason, but "real" offseason—which means fans and media have time to digest and make something of everything. They all have access to social media, which enables Twitterazzi to make countless jokes, which are funny, and piping hot sports takes, which are ridiculous, at the expense of others.
As Tomahawknation.com reported Wednesday morning, Winston was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a local Publix grocery store. According to a Leon County Sheriff's spokesperson, Winston left with $32 worth of food without paying. Winston eventually acknowledged to authorities that he "forgot" to pay after "milling" around the store, but made no effort to go back later. (He has since issued an apology for his actions.)
Every detail of this story is hilarious. It is also indisputable that this takes place in a vacuum. This cannot be lassoed in with Winston's sexual battery case, which is still the center of an investigation.
Is stealing wrong? Of course, but there is nothing here that connects X to Y.
It's not even entirely about paying athletes so they can buy food, though the timing is interesting given the NCAA's recent food deregulation rule. Rather, the pertinent questions are: How does one specifically decide on shoplifting crab legs? Furthermore, how would they attempt to hide them?
It's also possible this was nothing more than an honest mistake where bypassing proper crustacean-purchasing procedure was the only violation committed.
This is all under consideration because this is college football's peak offseason and these things are somehow important to the masses. Winston is famous, so everything he does gets attention from the media and clicks on the readers' end.
If anyone understands how that exchange operates, it's former Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. 2013 was his Summer of George. Manziel glad-handed and hung out with celebrities, got kicked out of a frat party, possibly got dismissed from the Manning Passing Academy for missing meetings and may have signed hundreds of pieces of memorabilia for a five-figure fee.
Some of those moments were more important than others because they affected Manziel's eligibility. Similarly, Winston has been punished by Florida State. The university announced Wednesday afternoon that the redshirt sophomore had been suspended from the baseball team until he completes 20 hours of community service.
"As a result of his citation last night, we are suspending Jameis Winston from the baseball team," said FSU Baseball Coach Mike Martin in a statement via the Tallahassee Democrat. "I am confident he will complete his community service obligation and the situation will be resolved soon."
The suspension will be temporary, and rightly so, but the constant following of his every move won't be. Winston will face scrutiny, just as Manziel did a year ago. His actions will be magnified.
Was Winston involved in a bench-clearing "brawl" alongside his baseball teammates in a game against Florida last month? Not really, unless some pushing and shoving constitutes a brawl.
Like Manziel, Winston's crab leg incident will conjure up spicy debate about his attitude, or whether it will be a distraction for the team this year or if he's a top-tier draft pick.
Take, for example, the thoughts about Winston now by various NFL front office folk (via Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman):
This from an NFL scout: "When I heard about this, I was stunned. He was the top overall pick next year. Was. Not anymore. This latest thing shows a continuation of bad judgment. I don't trust him, and I can tell you very few teams in the NFL will trust him."
This from a front-office executive: "He's on his way to falling out of the first round."
This from another scout: "We're talent whores. But we're not total whores. It's almost impossible, at this point, to trust Winston."
That's comes with the territory of being the top player in college football. But keep in mind that Manziel was once arrested on a disorderly conduct charge—Winston has only been cited at this time—and could still be a top-10 draft pick.
Of course, not helping matters was Winston's "Manziel disease" comment last August before he was named the Seminoles' starting quarterback. For context, a reporter used the phrase, which Winston merely repeated. Still, he provided the money quote:
"If I ever get Manziel disease, I want all of you to smack me in the head with your microphones." (H/t Perry Kostidakis of FSUNews.com)
The court of public opinion has been, and will be, more than happy to oblige.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football for Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.