As part of the Please Forgive Jameis Winston Before He Goes No. 1 press tour, the former Seminoles quarterback recently sat down with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh for a segment on ESPN. During the sit-down chat, Winston decided to ask Harbaugh for advice—and gave a very curious account of the day he stole crab legs from Publix.
Winston: “How am I supposed to handle, like, if I just got them for free. I just say ‘I just messed up?’”
Harbaugh: “If somebody gave them to you for free? So what happened? So explain that to me. Explain that me. You got them for free. Explain that to me.”
Winston: “A week before it was my buddy’s birthday and we had got a cake and we met a dude who was inside Publix and he said, ‘Hey, any time you come in here I got you.’ So that day we just walked out and he hooked us up with that and when I came in to get crab legs I did the same thing. 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.”
Harbaugh: “Okay, then put that in a nice ... ”
Voice off camera: “What was that part?”
Harbaugh: “I would keep it in a tight tidy box, tidy box. Came in. Got some crab legs. Left. People in the store reported that I didn’t pay for it. And they were right. I didn’t pay for them them, and I [bleeped] up. I should not have been taking anything, taking anything for free. I’ve learned.”
Harbaugh’s advice, admit you screwed up and move on, is pretty solid. (Why the hell Jim Harbaugh is giving Jameis Winston personal branding advice as part of a sit-down chat on ESPN is another question, but whatever.) There’s just one problem: Winston’s story contradicts every piece of evidence released in the case! It goes against statements from Publix employees, including a sworn affidavit from the person who gave him the crab legs, and it doesn’t match what Winston himself told investigators.
Here is what the seafood clerk told Leon County sheriff’s deputies in a sworn statement:
Another Publix employee near the front service counter noticed that Winston had walked out without paying and told a nearby deputy, according to a separate sworn statement to authorities. The employee also checked with the deli and pharmacy departments and asked if anyone had recently paid there for seafood but was told no. Publix told TMZ today that they did an internal investigation and “never came across any evidence that suggests there was an arrangement that Mr. Winston or any other FSU athlete had with an employee.”
Then there’s what Winston himself told the deputies. According to their reports, Winston “stated he forgot to pay, however Mr. Winston stated he realized the error when he arrived home but did not make any attempt to return to the store or contact the store.” There’s no mention in the reports of his lawyer, Tim Jansen (the hardest working man in Tallahassee), reaching to law enforcement to clarify what happened.
But what stands out the most is that Winston’s supposed arrangement doesn’t make sense if you’ve shopped at Publix. I grew up in Florida, and I love shopping there. Everyone knows you pick up your order at the seafood counter, they slap on a price tag, and you pay at the cashier. Perhaps a cashier could give you an illegal freebie—but a seafood counterperson? And the “any time you come in here I got you” boast sounds like the kind of cross-departmental power only a manager would have ... but the Publix brass in this situation told investigators they wanted to pursue the case. And even if Winston thought he had a freebie, didn’t he notice the huge price tag on his package?
Perhaps Winston remembers this wrong, or perhaps Jansen and Co. have rescued him from trouble often enough that he’s learned the key to navigating sports media: Tell them what they want to hear, say it with a smile, and watch everyone who wants to believe you do so. In a few weeks, Winston will be drafted into the NFL, and none of this will damage his draft stock. Instead, his complex relationship with the truth will become some NFL team’s million-dollar problem.
Image via Getty