An ESPN report published Sunday showed that athletes at Florida and Florida State were substantially more likely to avoid prosecution after being named a criminal suspect than their male student body peers.
The report examined police reports from campus and city departments across 10 major athletics departments, and cited incidents of potentially preferential treatment of athletes at schools ranging from Oklahoma State to Notre Dame to Missouri. But the report’s available data showed that of those 10 schools, the highest numbers of accused athletes and widest-ranging discrepancy in how frequently those athletes were prosecuted occurred in Gainesville and Tallahassee.
From the report:
[A]vailable reports showed that [Chris] Rainey’s alma mater, Florida, had the most athletes — 80 — named as suspects in more than 100 crimes at Florida. Yet the athletes either never faced charges, had charges against them dropped or were not prosecuted 56 percent of the time. When Outside the Lines examined a comparison set of cases involving college-age males in Gainesville, 28 percent of the crimes ended either without a record of charges being filed or by charges eventually being dropped.
Florida State had the second-highest number of athletes named in criminal allegations: 66 men’s basketball and football athletes. In 70 percent of those incidents, the athletes either never faced charges, had charges against them dropped or were not prosecuted. By comparison, cases ended up without being prosecuted 50 percent of the time among a sample of crimes involving college-age males in Tallahassee.
Rainey was held up as an example of the ability of athletes at Florida to avoid prosecution, having been named a suspect in five crimes ranging from stalking to injuring someone with fireworks, but only charged once.
The report cited multiple factors that helped explain the lower rates of athlete prosecution, foremost among them the availability of experienced, high-profile legal representation to football and basketball players at both Florida and Florida State. The name of Gainesville attorney (and Gators booster) Huntley Johnson has been well-known to SEC football fans for years; Rainey told ESPN that he felt “if anything happens, we got Huntley … he will get you out of anything, everything.”
Former Jameis Winston attorney Tim Jansen has filled a similar role in Tallahassee, per ESPN. From the report:
In 2011, police reports show, Jansen showed up unannounced at the Tallahassee Police Department station as one officer interviewed a player suspected of striking and raping a prostitute. The allegations, while graphic, were inconsistent and coming from a woman who police said was coming down from a cocaine binge.
The player, who was not ultimately charged, had not called Jansen and was in the middle of detailing what happened when two other officers — one of whom was a teammate’s father — interrupted to tell the athlete “he had representation in the lobby.”
Tipped off to the trouble — Jansen said it was likely by police — [FSU athletics official Monk] Bonasorte called Jansen.
At the police department, Jansen spoke with the player for a few minutes outside of officers’ presence, police reports show. The player returned and gave a different account of the night’s events, admitting he had sex with the woman but that it was consensual.
No one, ESPN included, would argue these kinds of experiences are limited to athletes at Florida and Florida State, or even schools in the SEC and ACC. (The report documents how Notre Dame policies helped delay the interview of the player connected to a rape accusation in the infamous Lizzy Seeberg case.) But it does confirm what many would have suspected: that when it comes to the legal system, it’s a good thing to be a Gator or a Seminole.