Quarterback Jameis Winston may be one of the most polarizing figures in sports, but there can be no denying the fact that the former Florida State Seminole can sling a football. He is most certainly going to be one of the top picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, and a lot of pundits are even expecting him to go No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Which is why it comes as a bit of a shock that Winston is heavily considering not attending this year’s draft in person.
On Monday, Peter King of The MMQB reported that Winston was not planning on going to the draft in Chicago, but instead would spend the day with family and friends in Alabama. Jameis’ father, Antonor Winston, confirmed the report when speaking with ESPN.com‘s David Hale. However, he also noted that this choice “was not set in stone.” This would be a very unusual decision, as we cannot remember the last time that a potential No. 1 pick was not in attendance to hear his name called. However, in some way, this seems like a perfectly reasonable decision.
Given the perception of Winston, and the still-lingering doubts concerning his maturity, it makes sense that the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner would want to keep a low profile during this heavily publicized event. By enjoying this experience with just family and friends, Winston is making a decision to circumvent any pressure that may come along with being in the spotlight. This makes perfect sense and we can see how it would be the wise choice. Unfortunately, just because it’s the smart decision, that doesn’t mean it’s the right one.
It’s perfectly understandable to suggest that Jameis Winston would rather spend this important day with the people who helped get him to this point, as opposed to a bunch of strangers and suits in Chicago. However, we live in a cynical world and because of that there’s a strong possibility that Winston’s decision may not get the reaction he was hoping for. Due to the heavy scrutiny that he’s constantly under, the choice to miss the NFL draft could look like nothing more than a PR stunt to help reaffirm his reformed image.
Jameis Winston is no longer the kid who makes poor decisions off the field. This is the new Jameis Winston; same smile and confidence, but without the need to be in the spotlight. He would rather be with his family and friends than front and center in Chicago. Look at how mature and grown up his is. Jameis Winston is a changed man. This is what they’ll want you to think. And despite how sincere he may very well be, it’s not the only way that this will look. It could appear that Jameis Winston is afraid that he may make a mistake. By choosing to stay home, Winston isn’t being mature, but rather reinforcing that he can’t remain mature while in the public eye. He’s not a family, he’s just man that’s trying too hard. This may not be his true intention, but how are we to know what’s real or not?
Here’s the thing: We don’t know that this decision is PR-related, but we also don’t know that it’s not. And that’s the point. Maybe Jameis Winston doesn’t care what the public thinks about him. He’s going to stay home in Alabama because he wants to enjoy the moment with his people. If this is how he truly feels, then by all means skip the draft. But for every person who believes this is an admirable decision, there will be a handful more who will wonder what his ulterior motives are. And for that reason alone, Jameis Winston needs to attend the NFL draft. Only then will he be able to show everyone that he has no reason not to be there.