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Tampa Bay Vetted Jameis Winston Before Choosing Him As No. 1 Draft Pick

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The number-one NFL draft pick, quarterback Jameis Winston, celebrated last night with a plate of crab legs. And later, after blowback, he deleted his Instagram picture showing that feast. You may remember that Winston was given a citation for shoplifting crab legs from a supermarket last year, and this may not have been the wisest way to start his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jameis Winston is also being sued by a woman who accuses him of raping her at Florida State. He was not criminally charged in that case. Joining me to talk about all this and the vetting of NFL prospects is sports writer Jane McManus with ESPN.

Welcome to the program.

JANE MCMANUS: Hi. Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Well, let's start with the response from Buccaneers management to all this. The general manager, Jason Licht, says if he wasn't a good guy, we wouldn't have used the first pick on him. And the head coach, Lovie Smith, chalks these incidents up to young people's mistakes. Do you buy that?

MCMANUS: I think that NFL teams, whenever they make a very expensive choice, like the Bucs did with Jameis Winston last night, have to spin it forward. And that's what they are doing here. There have been many first picks and many first round picks that didn't pan out. But at the time that they're made, everybody thinks they have a Super Bowl winner on their hand. So I wouldn't expect, you know, the Bucs to show any sort of self-reflection in the wake of making that pick.

BLOCK: Well, what kind of vetting does the team do? And, in particular, in this case, what did the Bucs look into? Whom did they talk to before they picked Jameis Winston?

MCMANUS: The Tampa Tribune had a pretty extensive article saying that they spoke to 75 different people, which is a lot of people. Neither one of those people was the alleged victim in the sexual assault case, Erica Kinsman, nor her counsel. And I think this is kind of typical. They do a lot of vetting and they speak to a lot of people, but often they speak to people who can kind of confirm their own thinking about the situation, rather than people who are truly neutral or people who may not be friendly to a particular player.

BLOCK: It does raise the question of how a team decides when perceived or real risk of players behavior - not performance on the field, but behavior off the field - when that is outweighed by the potential of reward to the team.

MCMANUS: This is the push and pull in a team. And I would say, up until last year, there really was very little reason not to pick a player for a lot of character issues. Now, where you have the NFL's new personal conduct policy, which can take players off of the field for charges filed - not necessarily being found guilty, but for just charges filed - that puts a different spin on the equation.

BLOCK: You know, I keep coming back to this notion that these were young people's mistakes, you know, youthful indiscretions for Jameis Winston. You know, it wasn't that long ago. It was less than a year ago that he jumped up on a table at Florida State and screamed a really vulgar, sexual phrase. He was suspended for half a game for that. This is not ancient history.

MCMANUS: No, and that - but I think that falls into the category of youthful indiscretions. When you look at the other allegations that have been made against him, no charges were ever filed. So it's very important to point out that Jameis Winston has never been charged with rape. However, there is a civil suit that is now standing against him, and he will have to face that as a professional athlete. That's something that the Bucs will have to contend with, unless that case is settled, even though some of the things, I think, that have taken - you know, some of the headlines, are not as serious. If you look at the crab legs picture today, I think you could probably chalk that up to youthful indiscretions. But some of the other issues facing Winston are not. You know, Winston's fate is in his own hands in many ways. You know, despite everything, he can go on and have a very fruitful career in the NFL as long as he doesn't get into any trouble off of the field. I think he's one player who, if he does get into trouble off the field, the NFL will be very prepared to act.

BLOCK: Jane McManus is a sports writer with ESPN.

Jane, thanks for talking with us.

MCMANUS: My pleasure. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.