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Why the Antonio Callaway and Jameis Winston cases are different

8

August

Since rumors of a sexual assault investigation regarding Florida Gators receiver Antonio Callaway began surfacing months ago, I've heard from many fans asking versions of the same question:

Why was so much written about the Jameis Winston case at Florida State when nothing was written about Callaway?

I get it; the Winston case was a major, national story, while Callaway was much quieter. Now that the Callaway accusation is public, let me try to explain why.

First, a disclaimer: This is not a direct comparison between the two cases themselves. This isn't about what Callaway did or did not do. Or what Winston did or did not do. Or what UF did or did not do. Or what FSU did or did not do. We don't have enough facts to know whether such comparisons are even justified. I'm not going there.

But I will share my three thoughts (two practical, one professional) on why Winston's case made national headlines for months and why almost nothing was written about Callaway until late last week.

Developments in the Winston case came from one of two groups: Paper (public records) and people.

Let's start with paper, because that's how the Winston case became public knowledge. There was a Tallahassee Police Department report on the case. I asked for a copy under open-records laws. So did other media outlets. The ensuing lawsuits led to more documents. More documents means more information, which means more stories. Between depositions, court filings, emails and everything else, I've read somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 pages related to the case.

With Callaway, there was no police report or criminal investigation, at least not with the half-dozen agencies I checked with. My other open-records requests came up empty, too. If there were any public documents related to the case, I couldn't find them - and neither could the other media outlets that asked (at least three others, beginning with Deadspin on Feb. 7, but those are only the ones documented via email).

It's worth noting here that Title IX investigations happen even if an incident is never reported to police. But, generally speaking, if there is no police report, there are no public records. And there was no police report with Callaway. Instead of the several thousand pages related to Winston, I have, I believe, five pages total on Callaway - and those are all statements from attorneys. That means one of the two main sources of information was gone.

So what about the other?

Attorneys in the Winston case weren't shy about speaking on the record. That includes Winston's first attorney. And his second one. And his accuser's first attorney. And her second ones. Because there was a criminal investigation, police officials and the State Attorney also spoke, which advanced the story.

In the Callaway case? Crickets. His attorney has issued a few short statements and said almost nothing on the record. Her attorney said nothing publicly before Friday.

I learned a long time ago in this business that if someone doesn't want to talk, you can't make him/her. I don't like it, but their job isn't to please me (a reporter) or you (the fan). Their job is to represent their client and win a case. And Callaway, according to his attorneys' statement, didn't want anything released publicly. So nothing was released publicly. That takes away the other main source of information that fueled the Winston case.

I can't speak for any other outlet or any other reporter, but our standards of publication are high at the Tampa Bay Times. We very, very, very rarely use anonymous sources in stories (I don't believe I used any at all in the Winston case). It's one thing to read a rumor on a message board. But if we're going to publish it in the newspaper, you need on-the-record facts from reliable sources. And with Callaway, the two ways we typically get that information - documents and people - went dry. No information, no story.

I don't know where this story is going from here, and I'm not going to speculate. But I don't think it will take on Winstonian heights, which leads to my final, professional thought.

Bear with me for a Journalism 101 lesson. There are an infinite number of things for hacks like me to write every day. So implicitly or explicitly, we use a few factors to help us figure out whether something is newsworthy and whether you (the reader) might be interested in. Conflict, money, proximity, timeliness and so on. The two most relevant ones here are celebrity and impact. Those are the two biggest reasons why the Winston case jumped from college football fans to major national news.

On the football field alone, Winston was clearly a bigger celebrity than Callaway. He was a former five-star recruit who played at the Trop in a high school all-star game. He was the best player in college football, an eventual Heisman Trophy winner who became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Callaway is a very good player. Maybe he'll become the best receiver in college football and a first-round draft pick. Maybe he'll break every record and win the Heisman twice. I don't know. But right now, his celebrity stature doesn't approach what Winston was in the fall of 2013. More people outside of sports fans are interested in a Heisman-winning quarterback than a receiver with four career touchdown catches.

There was also potential for a much greater impact with Winston. When the accusation first became public, FSU was 9-0 and second in the BCS standings, and Winston was on track to win the most prestigious individual trophy in college sports. Losing the starting quarterback at that time would have resulted in devastating consequences and could have cost the Seminoles a shot at the national title. It also could have cost Winston the Heisman. When FSU's hearing happened a year later, his status for the Rose Bowl was put in jeopardy - again, huge stakes for the undefeated defending national champions.

The Gators' season hasn't started yet, and UF is only No. 25 in the coaches' poll. UF might contend for the SEC East, but I don't think many people are projecting them to win the national title. So even though Callaway is a very good player, and UF might be a very good team, there's not as much at stake right now as there was with Winston. Higher stakes means more interest, especially among people who aren't diehard college football fans (they'll be interested either way).

So what does this all mean? To local sports fans, the cases are very similar: A very good player from a state college faces sexual assault investigation. And my job is pretty much the same. We put the Callaway story on the front page of Saturday's Times, just as we did most of the Winston stories, and a similar accusation against Treon Harris in 2014. I've been looking into the case since I heard about it months ago. I will continue to look into it until it's resolved and I've answered as many of my questions as possible.

But the details are different (again, ignoring the facts of the case), which affects what and how much we can write and report. That's why the Winston case exploded while the Callaway one was left to message boards.

I hope that clears things up. If not, hit me up on Twitter, or email me at mbaker@tampabay.com; I'll be happy to try to answer any of your polite, respectful questions. Thanks for reading. 

[Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2016 10:04am]

    

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