Sports Ethics Blog: Winston’s Great Crab Leg Caper

Back on April 29, 2014, Heisman Trophy winner and most probably first 2015 NFL draft pick Jameis Winston was cited for shoplifting $32 worth of crab legs and other shellfish from a supermarket. According to an ESPN story (April 22, 2015), “Jameis Winston: Store employee ‘hooked us up’ with crab legs,” the following was stated:

“At that time, Winston said in a statement: ‘I went to the supermarket with the intent to purchase dinner but made a terrible mistake for which I’m taking full responsibility. In a moment of youthful ignorance, I walked out of the store without paying for one of my items.’”

King CrabYesterday, on one of those space filling sports shows called the Draft Academy Show, Winston was grilled by Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh on the incident, Winston said:

“How I’m supposed to handle, like, if I just got them for free? I just say, ‘I just messed up?'”

Winston went on to say that the week before he was busted for stealing the crab legs, one of the guys who worked inside the supermarket, promised Winston he would give him free food pretty much anytime he wanted. When Winston came in the store, he apparently wanted crab legs:

“And when I came in to get crab legs…he just gave them to me and I walked out. And someone from inside the store had told the security that I didn’t pay for them. And that’s how the whole thing started.”

The crab leg incident was one of several that characterized the ethical personality of Jameis Winston.

Nice and practiced

The story is nice and neat and clean, but not so clean that $32 worth of crab legs have stopped following him around. In the grand scheme of things, this story isn’t about crab legs or privilege or supermarket employees wanting to get close to fame and fortune.

This story is how athletes are taught ethics and how they interpret the world around them and the consequences of their actions.

Whether we go shopping and intentionally shove a few pounds of crab legs under our shirts or “a guy” hooks us up with free goods that we know aren’t free, shoplifting is shoplifting.

In 2014, Jameis made it clear that he was assuming full responsibility. He said it was “youthful ignorance,” as he walked out the door with the unpaid merchandise. When just interviewed, he basically said that he got them for free, and if he was caught he would just say that he messed up. He knew he was walking out of the store with merchandise that wasn’t his to take. The store employee in “hooking him up” was also committing a crime.

If the crab leg incident would have been his only mistake, it might have been long forgotten. Jameis Winston is an intelligent person; he scored respectably well on his Wunderlic test; his “football IQ” test. He presents himself well and he gets his points across. He was making poor choices because he was not taught better. His poor choices are not linked to intelligence; they are part of consequences he suffered for his ethical decisions.

One poor choice, his alleged rape charge, is following him into the NFL. As a football fan you can choose to overlook his past if you would like, and you can even blame the rape victim if that is your preference, but it won’t make his poor choices go away. He is learning that nothing in life is for free.

Prevention not excuses

When the crab legs walked out of the supermarket in Winston’s shopping bag, it was emblematic of a lack of ethics. Ethics training might have helped him avoid the mistakes. In the upcoming draft he could very well go first, or he could fall through the floor. If the rape case follows him and his accuser makes a valid case, there is no telling how his career could be affected.

I do not view ethical misconducts as isolated incidents. They accumulate and weigh athletes down.

It is ironic how $32 worth of seafood can so badly affect a man hoping to sign for millions.



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