The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are very happy with Jameis Winston, and one of the reasons is that he’s gotten much more accurate this offseason and preseason. No touchdowns, but given his history of success in the red zone that’s not likely to be an issue. The increased accuracy is noticeable and significant, though.
So when Kevin Seifert of ESPN picked Winston as one of the winners of this preseason, that wasn’t a surprise. His reasoning, though, isn’t about the increased accuracy—he has Winston as one of the winners because...he came across positively on Hard Knocks.
Winston hasn't really lit up the field, having failed to throw a touchdown pass in 69 attempts. But he is without question the breakout star of HBO's "Hard Knocks" and is arguably the most interesting and engaging protagonist in the history of the long-running show. I was moved by the detailed tour of his childhood home in the opening episode, and by the way his words personalized what could have been a cliché segment. His personality has been portrayed as overtly positive and personable, but without any sense that he is playing for the cameras. Winston entered the NFL under the legal cloud of a sexual assault allegation, which was settled in December 2016. Through "Hard Knocks," the NFL world is seeing a fresh version of a still-developing player and man.
It was always ridiculous that people equated his off-field issues (most of which, aside from the sexual assault allegation, were exceedingly minor) with his off-field work and his work ethic. There have never been serious questions about the latter, and Winston’s always been an outstanding talent who does a lot of off-field work in the community.
But dragging his sexual assault allegation into it as an issue of his image is ridiculous, and exactly the wrong way to talk about sexual assault. There’s a long, long history of men who are charismatic, who look good on camera, who do lots of off-field work, and who also raped women. Because there’s a long history of men in general committing sexual assault, and a person’s on- or off-camera charisma or charity work tells us nothing.
If we want to talk about Winston as a winner because he improved his image, that’s....a little weird, and if we pretend that being charismatic on camera is somehow compensating for a sexual assault allegation that’s just insulting, if a typical way for sports media to treat serious issues.
Ultimately, Winston’s not in Tampa to have a good image, he’s here to play football, and the fact that he’s doing that better and better is much more noteworthy than him being charming on Hard Knocks.