Surrounded by trophies and awards and framed magazines with his son on the covers, Antonor Winston is perched on a worn chair in his living room, and he's annoyed. His patience for this whole circus diminishes over the course of a few hours as he relives each fresh round of criticism, beginning with today's news: "Winston held at gunpoint by local police."
This is the problem, Antonor says. Jameis is defined by headlines, not context. The latest controversy surrounds an incident report nearly two years old. In the fall of 2012, Jameis and teammate Chris Casher were approached by FSU police after residents complained of gunshots in the area. Turns out, Winston and Casher were out hunting squirrels with a BB gun. Yes, police initially thought they were brandishing a firearm and responded accordingly, but the drama fizzled quickly and ended without so much as a citation. But it's the headlines and the hot takes everyone remembers, Antonor said.
Before Jameis set out for Florida State, his world was organized around three things: football, baseball and Antonor. The father kept a close eye on his son and pushed him on the field while holding him to a far higher standard off it. Excelling at football wasn't just about talent. Jameis worked harder and practiced more. Teachers offered no free rides and instead challenged him more because of his star status. He kept a 4.0 GPA and helped tutor other students. It's what Antonor expected of his prodigy.
But between sports and school and that immense spotlight of being the biggest fish in Hueytown's shallow pond, Jameis was hardly a regular kid, and there were times when Antonor and his wife, Loretta, wondered whether Jameis' goofy personality was as much a result of a lost childhood as anything. It worried Antonor, so he pulled the reins tighter.
"Ant held Jameis to a really, really high standard, and Ant's a very strict disciplinarian," said Matt Stephens, the defensive coordinator at Hueytown during Jameis' playing career. "He knew where Jameis was at all times. He held him to a standard higher than other kids because he knew Jameis was a guy people were looking at a lot, and he tried to teach him that not everybody wants to see you succeed."
The spotlight on Jameis has grown with the wins and the Heisman and, of course, with the rape allegation, but in reality the Winstons have been living under the microscope for years. During Jameis' recruitment, there were fires started on their lawn, bricks thrown at their house, so many harassing phone calls that mobile numbers were changed routinely. During football games, Antonor and Loretta would sit on the visiting side of the stadium. The heckles from the out-of-town fans were easier to stomach than the vitriol spewed by their neighbors.
"We asked why," Antonor said, "but it got to a point where it really didn't matter unless you had a reaction."
That's the paradox the family faces now. Every instinct tells Antonor to defend his son, to shout from the rooftops that Jameis is a good kid, that he doesn't deserve the criticism, the hate, the lies. But they've seen this movie before, and to fight only rips open wounds they want so desperately to heal.