The first time I saw Kellen Winslow play football was when he was a Miami Hurricane. I immediately felt as though we were witnessing a change in the game of football. While Winslow was impressive in the NFL and his athleticism was evident, he never truly changed the game the way I thought he would. The change would eventually come in Rob Gronkoski, Travis Kelce and and others who are and were the type of unguardable force (wide receiver speed, power forward leaping ability and a fighter’s aggression).
This would be the first time I was wrong about Kellen Winslow. Being wrong about sports doesn’t fill me with much shame. Everything we do is guesswork and anyone claiming to have magic insight is, of course, an obnoxious jerk. The place where I was wrong that actually fills me with shame happened when in June 2018 I first heard of a case being associated with Kellen Winslow Jr. and his vile and deviant behavior and blew it off as mistaken identity.
In June 2018, the former NFL tight-end and son of NFL Hall of Famer was arrested for breaking in and exposing himself to a senior citizen. I now know that this either refers to a then 71 year old victim or an 86 year old female victim. I don’t remember as I my age works against me and I wasn’t covering sports at the time the way I do today. Either way, the way the story was initially presented was that Kellen Winslow Jr. had walked into “the wrong home” and exposed himself to an elderly woman. Without having known his history (a victim known as Jane Doe 4 came forward about a sexual assault that occured when she and Winslow were in college). Still, I thought this was a comical case of mistaken identity. I thought Winslow got a little too drunk one night and accidentally wandered into the wrong home.
At the time I did not know that in March of that year a woman was raped after she was picked up by a man (later revealed to be Winslow) while hitchhiking. I didn’t know that two months later, a 54 year old victim would be raped by Winslow and a few days later he would expose himself to a 59 year old woman who was gardening at the time. I also didn’t know that he intended to rape the sleeping 86 year old victim mentioned above.
What is clear at this point is a pattern of violence, and predation. Judge Blaine Bowman described Winslow simply as a “sexual predator”, he went on to indicate the way that Winslow selected his victims. He chose victims based on vulnerability and were less likely to be believed. He felt he would get away with the crimes because he felt as a young, rich man, it would not be believable to jurors that he would victimize older women. He also chose women he could easily overpower due to their ages.
Kellen Winslow Jr has been sentenced to 14 years in prison. This is the maximum allowable sentence for a plea bargain in the state of California. Still, this seems like a light sentence when you consider, if Winslow serves the entirety of his time, that he will be a free man at 51 years old. This would be younger than all but one of his victims (the aforementioned Jane Doe 4). This is to be considered as one of his victims described Winslow as more dangerous than we can imagine. Also, when addressed directly by Judge Bowman, Winslow said that his lawyer instructed him not to speak but that he would tell his story eventually.
That is a terrifying idea as a person who has very clearly created a pattern of preying on innocent people and prioritized people who he felt would be ignored by law enforcement or would not be believed by a jury, seemingly believes that he has a side of the story to tell. At this point you cannot look to Kellen Winslow Jr and come away with any thought that he is anything but a terrible person. Kellen Winslow Jr was an NFL player, he is a rapist, a criminal and a sexual predator.
The next part of this conversation is one that is replete with speculation. We won’t know until after his passing if Kellen Winslow Jr. suffered from CTE. There are two sides of this debate and it is important to realize that while the issue is an important one, the debate often misses the point.
Those who deny the existence of the condition fear the non-existent war on Football. This is as ridiculous as those who fear the war on christmas. Sunday’s from August to February are as predictable as Mariah Carey belting out “All I want for Christmas” and both economies are as strong as ever. This is true even through a global pandemic that seemingly did not impact holiday spending or the NFL’s ability to sell advertising.
The other side of the debate often gets misrepresented. These are those who are trying to find how CTE plays a role in post athletic careers and how it may affect people who fall victim to violent crimes associated with those who suffer from the condition.
The key needs to be that in order to prevent innocent people from being hurt by those who suffer from the condition. Regardless of belief, CTE is a matter of science and the more information we have the better we can use it to make informed decisions. Suggesting that a player acted a certain way and that the decision was impacted by CTE does not mean that we should stop playing football, nor does it alleviate the guilt of these heinous acts. The fact of the matter is that innocent people were hurt by Kellen Winslow Jr. and if this does turn out to a result of brain trauma and we can protect innocent victims in the future this needs to be explored.
Players are often left to their own devices when retiring from a sport that normalizes violence. They are treated like gods on their college campuses and idolized as pros. Along with a study of the impact of their physical damage needs to be assessed because while most players reintegrate into society after their playing days are done, too many suffer from depression, addiction and some make innocent and unsuspecting victims of an ultimately violent game.