Jameis Winston admitted to a possible NCAA violation — albeit minor — stating during an ESPN interview he received free food from a Tallahassee, Fla., grocery store.
The former FSU quarterback made headlines in April 2014 when he was cited for stealing roughly $32 in crab legs and crawfish from Publix. But during ESPN Draft Academy segment that aired Tuesday night, Winston said he did not steal anything from the supermarket, insisting a store employee offered him the food free of charge.
The ESPN series featuring top draft prospects showcased a meeting Winston had with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and assistant Jedd Fisch ahead of the NFL Scouting Combine in February. In preparation for questions he would face at the combine, the former NFL coaches asked Winston to address the issues he had off the field. During a review of his transgressions, he left off a citation for stealing crab legs from Publix.
Fisch asked how he would address that issue and why he ignored it.
Winston responded, “How am I supposed (to) handle if I got them for free? Just say I messed up?”
Harbaugh replied, “If someone gave them to you for free?”
Winston responded, “Yea.”
“The week before it was my buddy’s birthday and we had got a cake and we met a dude who was inside Publix. And he said, ‘Hey, any time you come in here, I got you.’ So that day, we just walked up and he hooked us up with that.
“And when I came in to get crab legs, he did the same thing. And he just gave them to me and I walked out.
“Someone from inside the store said I didn’t pay for them and that’s how the whole thing started.”
Harbaugh said Winston had to still accept responsibility for his actions.
“Keep it in a tight, tidy box. Tidy box,” Harbaugh said. “Came in, got some crab legs, left. You know, people in the store reported that I didn’t pay for it. And they were right, I didn’t pay for them and I (expletive) up. I should not have taken anything for free.”
He then asked Winston, “Is that what happened?”
Winston replied, “Yes sir.”
While Winston is moving on to the NFL and hopes clarifying the crab leg incident helps him prove he can be trusted to serve as the No. 1 overall pick, it could cause problems for FSU.
It is an NCAA violation for athletes to receive free goods and services. Players can lose eligibility for accepting impermissible benefits, although it would likely have no impact on Winston since he declared for the NFL draft.
FSU, however, could still face institutional penalties if NCAA officials determine multiple athletes beyond Winston accepted impermissible benefits from a grocery store. If Winston is the only athlete linked to the free food, it would likely be a Level III violation — previously known as a secondary violation under the NCAA’s old penalty system — and may not carry many sanctions for the school.
FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox responded to Winston’s comments in a release on Wednesday:
“We have become aware of statements made by Jameis Winston during a recent interview with Jim Harbaugh describing the circumstances of his alleged receipt of food from a local grocery store. The details disclosed by Winston in that interview were not previously known to the University. As is the case with all matters of this type, we will work in partnership with the NCAA to determine whether a violation occurred.”
Winston’s account of the crab legs incident differs significantly from the remarks he made earlier this year.
Leon County Sheriff’s Office representatives said they were dispatched to the grocery store after a person left the supermarket without paying for seafood. Winston, according Leon County Sheriff’s Office Major Mike Wood, told the sheriffs he had “forgotten” to pay. He also apologized repeatedly to the sheriffs and stated he wanted to ‘make it right,’ according to an incident report.
Winston was issued a citation by the sheriff’s office and was placed in a program that required him to complete 20 hours of community service. FSU baseball coach Mike Martin suspended Winston until he completed the community service, which took a week.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said during the ACC Kickoff in July that he did not consider suspending Winston for football because he was not “malicious” and leaving the store with the seafood was “not done with intent.” Fisher was not asked whether Winston was given the seafood as a gift.
The Publix, located near FSU’s campus, has been accused of having a history of giving free food to FSU athletes. Marcellus Wiley, a former NFL player and a current ESPN analyst, posted on Twitter in May Winston was “‘falling on the sword’ 2 protect his teammates & ‘higher ups’ who knew of this Publix taking care of players for years!”
Later in the ESPN Draft Academy segment, Harbaugh alluded to Winston jumping on a table on FSU’s campus and shouting a vulgar phrase.
“Tell the truth,” Harbaugh instructed Winston. “That’s not going to happen anymore. I’m not going to jump on any more tables. I know who I am and who I represent.”
After pausing, Harbaugh asked Winston a question he expected the star quarterback accused of sexual assault to be asked by NFL executives, stating, “Do you have a sex addiction? You have a problem with sex?”
Winston replied, “No, sir.”
Harbaugh advised him, “The whole time you’re in there, it’s a job interview. … You’re dead serious about being serious about football, about being good. You’ve been a good teammate, learning, grinding, competing at the highest level.”
Harbaugh later told ESPN cameras that Winston is “a happy person, he’s spiritual, he’s a smart person. … I was very impressed with him.”
Winston said he valued Harbaugh’s advice given his elite NFL experience and “it was an honor just to meet him. It was a blessing.”