Character questions not benching Winston in NFL draft

Wed Apr 29, 2015 11:09pm EDT
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By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - In a test of second chances, the losing Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to use their No. 1 pick in the National Football League draft on Thursday to sign a standout college quarterback dogged by character questions.

Jameis Winston, a 21-year-old Heisman trophy winner, is as famous for his off-field behavior as he is for his throwing arm. He was accused of rape at Florida State University but never faced criminal charges or university punishment. He also has gotten into trouble for shoplifting and shouting vulgarities on campus.

The central Florida team's apparent willingness to gamble on Winston as the next face of the Buccaneers franchise is drawing measured concern from local women’s advocates after a year in which the league has faced wide criticism for its handling of off-the-field violence by players.

While keen to rebound from a dismal season with two wins and 14 losses, tying for the worst record in the NFL, the Buccaneers have shown commitment to preventing domestic violence and sexual abuse, anti-violence campaigners say.

The team is sponsoring a table at a black tie gala next week for a local domestic violence shelter, whose experts were previously invited to meet with players.

"They're still focused on winning football games, but they are definitely making an effort," said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence center.

Tampa Bay is a sprawling region, where few institutions are more powerful than professional sports and none higher profile than football.

It is also the home of Erica Kinsman, who accuses Winston of raping her in late 2012. He maintains the encounter was consensual, but Kinsman sued him earlier this month in state civil court.   Continued...

Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston (5) walks off the field after defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports