The allegation is now out there, in stark and startling black and white:
Star Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, according to a statement reported Wednesday by the Tampa Bay Times, allegedly raped a woman last December.
But the haymakers don't stop there. The statement released to the Times by Patricia Carroll, the unnamed alleged victim's family attorney, accuses the Tallahassee Police Department of failure to fully follow up on the initial rape complaint; prematurely and unilaterally alerting Winston's attorney and Florida State campus police to the situation; and painting a foreboding picture of the potential fallout from accusing a Seminoles football player of sexual assault.
"We requested assistance from an attorney friend to interact with law enforcement on the victim's behalf," the statement said. "When the attorney contacted Detective [Scott] Angulo immediately after Winston was identified, Detective Angulo told the attorney that Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against him because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable."
Thus we have arrived at a freshly ugly, bombshell allegation in big-time college football.
Reggie Bush's stripped Heisman Trophy in 2010 is small potatoes compared to the headlines that have followed: Jerry Sandusky at Penn State in 2011; and now an accusation that the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and star of the No. 2 team in the country committed rape.
The potential damage to Winston's Heisman candidacy is insignificant compared in the grand scheme. The potential damage to the Seminoles' national championship quest if Winston is sidelined also is of secondary importance. The potential legal ramifications, and the search for the truth in an escalating situation, are what matters.
If Winston is charged with a felony, he will be suspended immediately under the Florida State athlete code of conduct. If Winston is found guilty of a felony, he's going to jail.
It's not hard to figure out which potential penalty is more important. And shame on any football fans viewing this solely through the prism of whether it helps or hurts their team.
It is, of course, vital to point out that this is a one-sided allegation. As of now, there are no charges against Winston – State Attorney Willie Meggs is weighing that right now. We have not heard Winston's side of the story, beyond his attorney Tim Jansen saying that the 19-year-old denies wrongdoing. Florida State athletic spokesman Elliott Finebloom told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that the school will not be issuing any statements in response to the Tampa Bay Times Report.
But until Wednesday we had heard neither side of the story. Now we have heard the complainant's side, and it isn't pretty. Going forward with a rape accusation is a perilous endeavor under any circumstance, but when the accused is at the height of national popularity that only ratchets up the stakes for all involved.
That's why the statement Wednesday hits like a ton of bricks. It accuses Jameis Winston of criminal behavior and suggests a police cover-up to protect the five-star recruit – the No. 1 quarterback in the nation in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals.com – from being investigated.
Delays in collecting DNA samples and conducting interviews. The attempt to dissuade the woman from pursuing the case. Alerting Jansen – the go-to lawyer for Florida State football players in trouble with the law – and the campus police to the case, while never going to the State Attorney's office until months later. Those are the allegations, and they sound straight out of a Hollywood screenplay about the corrupting power of a big-time football program in a college town.
"Let me say this: There's an ongoing investigation and the victim is cooperating with the State Attorney's office in this matter," Carroll told Yahoo Sports. "There will be no further comment. The statement speaks for itself and that's all the family is willing to say at this time."
Several hours after the Tampa Bay Times story broke, Tom Coe, interim chief of the Tallahassee Police Department, issued a three-minute statement on the Winston case Wednesday night. He did not take questions from reporters afterward.
Coe said the TPD took the case in reponse to a call from Florida State University police on Dec. 7, 2012, and began collecting evidence. He said that in 2013, the case was "classifed as open and inactive" and the complainant in the case "broke off contact" with the police. Coe said the woman's attorney "indicated she did not want to move forward at that time."
"The case was never closed," Coe said, with emphasis. "It was classified as open and inactive."
Coe said there have been "some factual" statements made in the media about the case, and "some that are not factual." He declined to specify, and said the TPD would not make a habit of commenting on reports and developments related to the case.
"When we can say more about this case we certainly will," he said, "and we look forward to that day."
At the end of the family statement are six questions:
"1. If Winston's attorney was aware of the case in February 2013, why didn't Detective Angulo collect DNA evidence, interview Winston, and conduct a proper investigation.
"2. Why did it take Detective Angulo four months to verbally inform the family of the blood work results?
"3. Why was Winston not listed as the suspect in the police report once he was identified in early January?
"4. Why is it being represented in the press that the victim was intoxicated when Detective Angulo told the family that the victim was not intoxicated based on the blood work?
"5. Why didn't Detective Angulo or his superiors inform the State Attorney of the crime before the media sought a copy of the police report 11 months after the crime?
"6. Why was the Florida State University Police Department given a copy of the police report after it was determined they did not have jurisdiction, especially given the fact that Winston's attorney represents the Florida State University football team and they have a clear conflict of interest?"
Provocative and important questions. The answers that come out over the ensuing weeks could have a huge impact on the 2013 college football season – but also and more importantly, on the young lives of the alleged victim and Jameis Winston.