On Saturday, Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston helped his team win 45-7 against Duke University in the ACC championships. After the game, ESPN reporter Heather Cox used her interview with Winston to discuss the investigation into whether Winston was the perpetrator of a sexual assault coming to a close. But Winston's attorney and his fans didn't like that very much.
In the sideline interview, Cox asked Winston four questions and received three answers. One was entirely about football ("What's it like to look ahead and finally be able to utter the words 'national championships'?") while the others were about Winston's investigation. Considering his team had just won, Winston was in an incredibly jovial mood, swiftly responding to Cox's questioning without a care in the world:
What's the last month been like for you as news off your investigation with Sheri headlined your on the field performance?
"It helped our team...we came together, everybody had my back."
What did you learn during the investigation?
"I gotta get more mature. I gotta get better at everything I do."
How come you decided not to talk during the process and on Thursday?
At this point, Winston walked away without answering; according to Cox, he was pulled away. After the interview, Winston's attorney sent out multiple tweets bitching about Cox's interview.
In the world of sports journalism, perhaps even more than in the world of, let's say, Hollywood journalism, balancing access to sources with actually getting new information. Our brother site Deadspin spends a great deal of their time pointing out the hypocrisy of sports journalists who don't push hard enough in reporting on their subjects for fear of repercussions. When setting up interviews in any industry, journalists and attorneys/publicists often create detailed sets of rules over what questions are on the table or how long reporters can fixate on certain topics. But in a statement to Sports Illustrated, ESPN's VP of production John Wildhack said said that wasn't the case in this situation:"Florida State agreed to the interview with no restrictions. Heather did a terrific job asking a variety of topical questions."
Cox supports this version of the events, explaining to SI that FSU's head coach Jimbo Fisher and two football sports information directors gave her permission to ask about the investigation and did not ask what she was going to say beforehand. It was in their best interest, really; putting down sexual assault claims after such a win certainly would paint the picture of Winston as FSU's golden boy. But after the fact, Fisher was apparently upset about the line of questioning, though Cox said she and the coach have spoken since and cleared it up, explaining that "he apologized and understood that there was a big misunderstanding."
Since the game, multiple sports columnists have suggested that Cox asked one too many questions about the investigation and FSU fans have ranted on Twitter about Cox for including questions about it at all. Unfortunately for them, it's not Cox's job to make her interviewees comfortable or happy: it's her job to ask the hard questions, as they say.
Cox agrees. "I was never once asked not to ask about the investigation and if I had been asked not to ask those questions, I would have declined to do the interview because I would not have been able to do my job," she told SI, explaining that in her view, Winston "seemed kind of relieved to be talking about it."
Image via Bob Leverone/AP