Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were comfortable enough in Jameis Winston’s character to make him the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft last Thursday, he likely still has work to do to similarly convince residents of his new city and fans of the team.
“I think he’s going to get the benefit of the doubt, and he’ll be embraced in the locker room. In the city, it’s going to be different,” former Bucs head coach (and current Tampa resident) Tony Dungy told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.
“He’s going to have prove himself.”
Winston comes to town with more off-field baggage than perhaps any previous No. 1 pick. He faced a sexual assault allegation while he was the star quarterback at Florida State. He also was cited for shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee grocery store. And he served a one-game suspension last season for bellowing a vulgarity directed at women in a Florida State student center.
Dungy said he knew of the thorough investigation Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith undertook before drafting Winston, and that makes Dungy comfortable with the choice — even if he did have a soft spot for quarterback Marcus Mariota, who played with Dungy’s son at Oregon.
Tampa Bay’s brain trust performed extensive interviews with people who know Winston, but there was no meeting with the woman who accused him of rape and who has since filed a civil suit against the quarterback. Smith told MMQB.com earlier this week that team officials read the woman’s depositions. Winston was not charged by prosecutors in Tallahassee, and Florida State also cleared him.
Dungy himself is looking forward to speaking with Winston once he gets settled. They met only once previously, after Winston won the Heisman Trophy in 2013.
“I know he’s going to have a big support system here in Tampa. I know Derrick Brooks is here and has really said he’s going to be involved. As a fellow Florida State alum, and a former Buccaneer, he’s really, really interested in helping Jameis succeed off the field and on the field,” Dungy said.
Even with help from Brooks, the Hall of Fame linebacker who last year was appointed as an arbitrator for on-field discipline by the NFL and NFL Players Association, Dungy said Winston should expect the process of winning over skeptical Tampa-area fans to take some time.
“People are going to have their eye on him for a long time, and he has to understand that. He’s not going to have the benefit of the doubt. He’s not coming in with a clean slate like most people do,” Dungy said.
“There are going to be people that are going to scrutinize his every move, and certainly he knows that, and the Buccaneers know that. So there is some added pressure on him.”
Dungy’s All Pro Dad organization recently partnered with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to produce several public service announcements and include domestic violence awareness in its programs at Florida schools.
“We talk about this issue of not only domestic violence, but how we should train our kids to handle all sorts of situations. You look everywhere in the country and see explosive responses — violent responses — to issues, and that is what seems to be the norm,” Dungy said.
“We’re trying to get across to young people that, especially in dealing with the opposite sex, there is a gentlemanly way to do things. But I think that carries over into life in general.”