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Padecky: Heisman vote murky due to possible charges

  • Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up before an NCAA college football game against Florida in Gainesville on Nov. 30, 2013.

How much ethical latitude should we give athletes? When is a crime too heinous, too disturbing, to ignore?

If punishment is necessary, what kind of penalty should be assessed?

These are questions I never asked myself when I first became eligible to vote for baseball's Hall of Fame in 1987. Or when I began voting for the Heisman Trophy winner five years later.

Once I wore both honors easily and proudly, took seriously the responsibility that went with it and rested comfortably with whatever decision I made.

Now? It feels like I am pushing a boulder uphill. Instead of athletes on the field I see prosecutors and accusers and depositions off it. I see moral conundrums. I see a questioning, skeptical public weary of jocks getting preferential treatment. I see myself judging talent versus character.

I see myself getting a headache every December, for that's when I vote for the year's best college football player and for those to gain entry into Cooperstown. For me the cruelest month of the year around here is not when the freezing weather comes in January and February. It's when the ballots come in December.

What do I do about Florida State's Jameis Winston? He is the quarterback of America's best college football team, at least the team ranked first right now. He has 3,490 yards, 35 touchdowns, just eight interceptions and enough praise as a player to overwhelm even Tony Robbins.

Winston has my vote, but I'll be sliding my ballot under the door without looking, not wanting to see what happens next. Within a couple of weeks, prosecutors have told us, they will make a decision on whether to charge Winston on sexual assault. If that's the case, that would happen after I submit my ballot next Monday, and after the Heisman winner is announced Dec. 14.

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