Former NFL first-round pick Travis Johnson, who was acquitted after a sexual-battery trial while he was a star defensive tackle at Florida State, said he is worried for FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, he told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Johnson, who played six years in the NFL after he was a first-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2005, told the newspaper he thinks Winston will suffer emotional distress even if he is never charged in the investigation into a sexual battery allegation stemming from December 2012.
"Right now, Jameis is as cool as the other side of the pillow," Johnson told the Democrat. "But on the inside, I know that it's killing him. The longer it goes on, the more it's going to wear on him."
Winston played just the first half of FSU's 59-3 rout of Syracuse last Saturday, throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns. The Seminoles, second in the BCS standings, are 56-point favorites against Idaho this Saturday.
In March 2003, Johnson was charged with sexual battery after a female student-athlete accused him of forcing himself on her. Johnson later was found not guilty by an all-woman jury after less than 30 minutes of deliberation.
Johnson, 31, who lives in Houston, told the Democrat the charge followed him for years and that every NFL team he spoke with brought up the case.
"There's a reason I met with all 32 teams," he told the newspaper. "Because all 32 teams wanted to know what happened. ... In this country, you are guilty until proven innocent. In the court of public opinion, they crucify you."
The Leon County state attorney at the time was Willie Meggs, who remains in that role and is involved in the Winston investigation.
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Johnson told the Democrat there was a widespread perception in the Florida State athletic department that Meggs was tougher on football players than the general public. Johnson said he believed that played a role in his case going to trial. Meggs could not be reached for comment by the Democrat, but he previously has defended his actions regarding FSU athletes.
In Johnson's case, then-FSU president T.K. Wetherell and the school's student affairs vice president were criticized by prosecutors for trying to work out a deal to keep the matter out of court. Wetherell spoke to Johnson and the complainant, and Mary Coburn, the student affairs VP, drafted an agreement that proposed neither Johnson nor the accuser pursue legal action; her proposal had Johnson withdrawing from school for six months before re-enrolling in time for the next football season.