The current goings-on involving Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston serve as a cautionary tale on how not to handle a sexual assault case.
It's hard to fathom why police failed to question Winston immediately after he was identified by the alleged rape victim. Doing so would have protected both his credibility and that of his accuser. His recollection of the events of that evening would have been clearer then than now, almost a full year later.
Frankly, the whole thing is a mess. We can't help but wonder how things would have been handled if Winston were not a football and baseball player at Florida State.
That sordid situation underscores how quickly and decisively Vanderbilt and local law enforcement acted in the aftermath of an incident five months ago. Unlike the case in Tallahassee, Fla., an alleged rape involving four Commodores football players was handled prudently.
When surveillance video surfaced suggesting an incident had occurred in a Vanderbilt dormitory, the university acted quickly. The matter was turned over to Metro Police. Evidence was gathered and individuals were questioned.
Less than a week after the alleged rape, the four players were suspended from school and barred from campus. Later, the four were dismissed from the university.
Unlike the case involving Winston, there is no suggestion that the Vanderbilt players received preferential treatment because they are athletes.
One of the most disturbing elements in the Tallahassee case is the revelation that the alleged victim was warned of possible retribution if she pressed the issue. Her attorney said a detective suggested the alleged victim "will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable," according to a statement released by her family on Wednesday.
There has been no hint of intimidation of the alleged victim in the Vanderbilt case.
Certainly, there are significant differences in the two cases. At Vanderbilt, the alleged rape occurred on campus. At Florida State, the alleged rape occurred at an off-campus apartment. Four players have been charged with felony rape in one case. No charges have been filed in the other.
I don't pretend to know Winston's innocence or guilt. Speaking at a news conference on Thursday morning, Winston's attorney said sex between his client and the complainant was consensual. The attorney, Tim Jansen, said he believed his client would be exonerated.
Likewise, those involved in the incident on the Vanderbilt campus are due their days in court.
No police investigation is perfect, and the one involving the Vanderbilt case is no different. Defense attorneys will use any mistakes to fortify their arguments. But the issue here is how quickly and appropriately the university and law enforcement acted once the incident was uncovered.
Yes, Vanderbilt has been guilty of some public relations gaffes along the way. In the days following the incident, the university was slow to issue statements about the case and those implicated. The decision not to immediately name the four players that had been dismissed from the team and from school made no sense.
More recently, James Franklin's handling of questions about former Commodores wide receiver Chris Boyd was sophomoric. Asked at his weekly press conference on Monday about the fact that Boyd remains on scholarship and is attending classes despite pleading guilty to covering up the alleged rape, Franklin instead spoke about video of Vanderbilt athletes on a good will trip to Tanzania last summer.
Sometimes a simple "no comment" is the right way to go.
But those are peripheral issues. When it comes to the heart of the case, Vanderbilt deserves credit for the prompt, thorough manner in which it dealt with a very difficult situation.