Extortion claims by Jameis Winston's adviser add fuel to never-ending PR grease fire

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Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
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Jameis Winston was suspended for Florida State's narrow win over Clemson on Saturday. (AP)
Jameis Winston was suspended for Florida State's narrow win over Clemson on Saturday. (AP)

In case you didn't think Jameis Winston (or his advisers) could self-inflict any more damage while creating unnecessary negative headlines for the player or Florida State, here's Wednesday's latest:

Either an attorney of the woman who accused him of rape in 2013 – the incident that didn't result in charges possibly because the Tallahassee police investigation was so pathetic even the local prosecutor called it "a cluster" – tried to demand $7 million from Winston in exchange for the victim/accuser's silence…

Or an attorney advising Winston actually started the process by flying down to Tampa and offering that sum, or some sum, to the victim/accuser as a way to buy her off…

Or the talks broke down immediately because the woman was not interested so much in money as making sure the Heisman Trophy winner was held accountable for his actions that night, which caused the woman to immediately contact two separate police departments and then within hours subject herself to a rape kit…

Or the talks fell apart because Winston's advising attorney went over the top and tried to be a bully. The woman's attorney said in a statement he, "threatened to sue our client and her parents for civil racketeering in an effort to intimidate them into staying quiet" and acted, "crude and insulting going so far as to say 'your client likes to [expletive] football players' "…

Or … well … as with anything involving Jameis Winston, it keeps going and going and going and getting uglier and dumber and more unnecessary with each turn.

You'd think this back-and-forth was rock bottom but history says it won't be.

What we do know is that David Cornwell, the high-profile attorney who often works in the world of pro football and is advising Winston's family, was determined to take this extortion/bullying story public. So determined, in fact, that he tweeted out that he was sending Florida State a letter on the issue (causing media to file open records requests) and it soon appeared on TMZ.

It later resulted in the woman's attorney, John Clune, blasting Cornwell back and spinning the charges around, stirring up the entire sordid scandal again in the process.

That led Cornwell, a brass-knuckle brawler if there ever was one, to respond again via Twitter with:

"Tries to extort a 20yr college student for $7 million … and I'm unprofessional. #priceless."

And:

"Hmmmmm…why no denial of $7million demand? #sirwalterscottandtangledwebs."

Just to recap, this has descended into a lawyer using hashtags.

How this story gets any stranger is anyone's guess.

Perhaps the bubble Florida State administrators and coach Jimbo Fisher live under is so impenetrable, they just yawn and view all this as just another day at work.

Or perhaps they have just come to the understanding that they've so enabled their quarterback that no matter how embarrassing it gets, they can't possibly discipline or distance themselves.

Or perhaps they see the daily drama as no big deal.

Or maybe, somewhere at FSU, someone begins to wonder if the recurring, self-created Soap Opera du Jameis is worth however many touchdowns he'll score this weekend.

On Tuesday, Fisher announced Winston would no longer hold a weekly availability with the media, a decision that demanded no explanation. Even Winston's biggest fans would agree he's a PR train wreck that desperately needs, for his reputation, NFL future and the good of the Seminoles, to just be calm, quiet and play ball.

Fisher wound up claiming, according to Warchant.com, that it was so Winston could have more time to concentrate on academics, which was good for a laugh to anyone not wearing garnet-and-gold blinders.

Regardless, it may have been the first smart off-the-field move involving Winston we've seen. This was FSU actually helping the guy out.

Please, Jameis, just chill.

Jameis Winston congratulates QB Sean McGuire during Florida State's win over Clemson. (CampusInsider)
Jameis Winston congratulates QB Sean McGuire during Florida State's win over Clemson. (CampusInsider)

It didn't matter, not once Florida State's Title IX investigation into the rape case was brought back up – an investigation most people didn't even realize was going on and wouldn't otherwise have been written about Wednesday.

Why the heck would Winston or his advisers allow this to happen? And who thought that in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal the American public was eager to hear an accuser/victim and her parents get slammed, especially when the he said/he said charge of extortion was so assuredly going to be denied and slapped back in his face?

Plus, is the Winston/FSU camp so tone-deaf that they really think that most people saw the local prosecutor's decision not to press charges as a sign that Winston was the sympathetic victim of a false accusation, not police work that at best was lacking and at worst a straight cover-up?

No matter the truth, you have to recognize public opinion and pick your battles.

"Mr. Cornwell appears to know that Mr. Winston is about to be charged by Florida State with sexual assault and this letter seems to be his final attempt to prevent FSU from complying with federal law," Clune wrote in a statement.

Now there's a lose-lose quote no one at FSU needed out there. Either the school charges Winston or it got pushed around and once again protected its meal ticket. Nice.

Not sure how this is convincing NFL executives that Winston's default mode isn't making completely moronic decisions that reflect poorly on himself and everyone around him.

Yet here we are, bringing back an incident that is a heck of a lot more sinister than stealing groceries or suiting up for a game for which he was suspended. Once you're in the clear, you might try quietly moving on.

Only two people know exactly what happened that December night and perhaps only two people know exactly what went down between the two legal camps when the issue of money was raised.

It's certainly possible that the woman's original attorney, Patricia Carroll, tried a straight-up shakedown, but even if you had undeniable proof, what's the point in dragging it out now? Cornwell may be correct about everything he says. But who wins? Whatever point you're trying to make isn't being made.

For Winston and FSU, this negative news cycle was unnecessary, completely avoidable and without a possible positive outcome.

This here was as stupid as stupid gets … or Wednesday for Jameis Winston.