Where will he end up?

Photographer: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Florida State Football's Two-Tiered Justice System

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
Read More.
a | A

Florida State University's bizarre brand of justice is back on display.

The school is in damage-control mode after separate reports that two of its football players punched women. Freshman quarterback De'Andre Johnson was dismissed from the program after a video showed him striking a woman in the face at a bar on June 24. Johnson was charged with misdemeanor battery and has retained attorney Jose Baez to take his case. Baez -- the guy who successfully defended Casey Anthony, the Florida woman acquitted on charges of murdering her 2-year-old daughter -- says the woman provoked Johnson with "racial epithets" and a kick to the groin.

Two weeks later, sophomore running back Dalvin Cook was also charged with misdemeanor battery after an incident in which he's accused of punching a woman repeatedly outside another bar. FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher has suspended Cook indefinitely.

As if that weren't bad enough, Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples reported Sunday night that Cook had been cited last year for abusing puppies. According to the citation obtained by Staples, Cook had three puppies between two- and eight-months old tied with a chain tied around their necks, in the rain without shelter. "The dogs were unable to move and the smaller puppies were choking," the report reads.

One has to wonder whether Fisher knew about that incident, and why Cook went unpunished if so. But Cook and Johnson bring up the larger issue of the on-field meritocracy by which FSU handles off-field issues. Both players are charged with the same crime, yet Cook remains on the team while Johnson has been dismissed. Johnson had been hailed as the school's next star quarterback, but he was still a third-stringer at the time of his dismissal. Meanwhile, Cook ran for 905 yards during the regular season last year, was the MVP of the ACC Championship Game, and was recently named to the 2015 Maxwell Award watch list

Some will say that the Johnson decision was easier given the video, but that's more a depressing commentary on the public's capacity to downplay violence against women than anything else. If we've learned anything after Ray Rice, let it be that we shouldn't need to see the blows to take accusations of assault seriously.

And it's hard not to note the inconsistency with how these cases are being handled by both the school and Florida state prosecutor Willie Meggs, as compared to both parties' complete fumbling of Jameis Winston's sexual assault accusations. Reports of victim intimidation, failure to contact key witnesses, and inappropriate coordination between the university's athletic department and the Tallahassee police department make Winston the prime example of football stars accused of violence against women being allowed to play by a different set of rules.

To some extent, it's a question of just how much due diligence FSU actually does -- or wants to do -- on recruits such as Cook and Johnson. Last December, ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that police had been investigating Cook's involvement in an aggravated assault incident that had occurred the previous July. He was also arrested and charged in two separate incidents as a juvenile: for robbery in 2009, and for firing a weapon at an event on school property in 2010.

I'm all for second chances, and the call from ex-FSU star Ernie Sims for former players to mentor current athletes is a good place to start. (It's certainly a better idea than banning the players from going to bars, which is tantamount to admitting that they can't be trusted to behave out in public.) But that doesn't absolve athletic administrators from performing proper background checks on recruits and taking care to hold all players, regardless of ability, to the same disciplinary standard.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net