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Schoffel column: The problem with Jameis Winston

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The problem with Jameis Winston is he's a performer by nature.
He loves being the center of attention. It fuels him.
Did we really think it was normal for a freshman to embrace the spotlight the way he did last season? To put on a show when the cameras were rolling inside the Seminoles' locker room? To be that cool after struggling in the first half of the national championship game?
We chalked that up as being a fierce competitor, which he is. But it's more than that.
Jameis Winston craves center stage.
Probably more than any athlete I've covered at Florida State, Winston goes above and beyond when it comes to embracing his fans. During this past baseball season, when the allure of a Heisman Trophy winner in the dugout drew record crowds everywhere the Seminoles played, Winston was an incredible ambassador for Florida State University.
Before most games, he would take 30 to 45 minutes to sign autographs. Then after road games, he would keep the Seminoles' bus waiting while he signed some more.
If a child wore a jersey or hat that caught his eye, he would strike up a conversation with the parents and pose for pictures. For many of those families, the encounters were more than a brush with greatness. They felt a personal connection. Winston made them feel good. And that made him feel good.
That's what keeps performers going - the acceptance and appreciation of the people they entertain.
The problem with Jameis Winston is I'm not sure he can turn it off. He is always performing.
At the ACC Kickoff meetings in Greensboro last August, I followed Winston and the Florida State contingent for much of his time there. I watched him interact with players from other schools. I listened as he spoke with his handlers from FSU's athletics department.
He was "on" the entire time.
When the players from all 14 schools were brought together to pose for pictures, Winston was the first one to cut up. He pulled out his cell phone and posed for a selfie. Then he spent the next 15 to 20 minutes cracking jokes at the other players' expense.
Nothing mean-spirited. No one took it that way. It was just silly Jameis trying to make everybody laugh. And they did.
He also performed that weekend for the media, of course. As I wrote at the time, once Winston was done charming reporters and dancing around the shoplifting incident from spring, he leaned into the ear of a Florida State staff member and asked rhetorically, "Did I kill it?"
He knew he had. The performer wanted a thumbs-up on top of the applause.
And we wonder why he shouted a shocking, vulgar statement in front of friends and strangers this week at the student union? He wanted a reaction. He wanted laughs. He got one, if not the other.
It's likely the same reason why he snuck sips of soda from a Burger King fountain without paying. And, if he did it intentionally, why he swiped the crab legs. It wasn't about the money, but the act. A chance to perform, to show what he could do.
The problem with performers is they can be many things to many people, but it's sometimes impossible to tell what is staged and what is real.
Students react to Winston suspensionClick People at FSU absolutely love being around Winston. Teammates will do anything for him. His coaches believe in him. That's true in both football and baseball. And it's not simply because he's a great athlete. There have been many a great athlete in both sports who have been loathed by others inside the program. But almost everybody likes Jameis. Here to view this Link.
It's why he has been able to maintain so much support through all of his missteps. Coaches, teammates and administrators believed him wholeheartedly when he denied assaulting a female FSU student. They laughed off the soda stealing and the BB gun episode. They even gave him the benefit of the doubt when it came to the crab legs.
But just as many fans have had their allegiance tested through all of this, some inside the athletic department have had enough as well. They're tired of defending and excusing. They're frustrated that the guy who can be so likeable can turn around and be so unlikeable. And then be so likeable again.
The problem with Jameis Winston is it's becoming more and more difficult to know where the person ends and the performance begins.
When he sat down and spoke with the media on Wednesday, shortly after FSU announced he would be suspended for the first half of Saturday's game against Clemson, Winston again said all the right things. He apologized to his teammates, coaches and the university. He took responsibility for his actions. He blamed himself for committing a "selfish act."
He followed the same script we have heard him recite so many times before.
The problem is fewer people are inclined to believe him now.
No, shouting a vulgar statement on campus is not a terrible offense. Neither was sneaking soda. Or hunting squirrels near campus. Or taking part in a paintball fight that caused damage to some apartments. Or shoplifting crab legs.
The problem with Jameis Winston is not that he's a bad person, as some in the media have tried to portray. The only serious offense he has ever been accused of ended without him being arrested or charged with a crime. (That doesn't make him innocent, but it surely doesn't make him guilty.) And he has had more of a positive impact, between community outreach and encouraging young children, in two years than many will have in a lifetime.
The problem is we don't really know who he is, other than a brilliant athlete with tremendous charisma and a desire to perform. We want to appreciate his great qualities, but we can't ignore the rest.
And the real problem with Jameis Winston is this: It seems there's always a problem with Jameis Winston.
At some point, the performer must be judged by his complete body of work.
Contact managing editor Ira Schoffel at ira@warchant.com and follow @IraSchoffel on Twitter.