For anyone who visits Tallahassee on a regular basis or for anyone who calls this city their home it is quite apparent that two distinct cities, with their own diverse personalities and social make-up, dwell with-in the greater Leon County area.
One city is Tallahassee the college town— full of bars, large brick stadiums, apartment buildings, hipster shops, and twenty-something-year-olds who sleep till noon and live life without a care in the world. There's also the Tallahassee where I live. The Capital of Florida, known more for its laid back, small town feel, rather than the hustle and bustle that comes with the typical college town.
The perception is, for those who only see Tallahassee through the eyes of ESPN and twitter, this is a town driven by Florida State University, the citizens cater to its every beck and call, and the local police force will do anything to keep star players out of the news, including covering up rape allegations. Talk about your #HawtTakes
The fact is, if one was so inclined, a person could live in either of these two cities and have no idea the other even existed. Every now and then I'll drive down Tennessee or Pensacola Street to meet a friend for lunch, and after just a few minutes I'm reminded why I never venture to this side of town— college students. They drive like idiots, dress like hipsters, and smell like old beer. It just ain't my scene, man.
So, this type of segregated lifestyle is perfect for someone like me, an Alabama fan living in the land of Seminoles, who just wants to take care of his lawn, love his wife, and raise his kids. I can live peacefully, flying my ‘Bama flag in-front of our house with nary a comment or slight of eye from neighbors. Alabama re-claiming its rightful place as the king of College Football helped in this matter, but the fact is when you move outside of the downtown area, Florida State, the university, is more of an afterthought, rather than a focal point.
Sure, this city is dominated by ‘Nole fans and I'm sure for those fans Tallahassee is their holy land, but given Tallahassee is also home to FAMU, Tallahassee Community College (which is one the top community colleges in the state), its close proximity to the Georgia state line (just about 30 minutes), L.A. and is only a couple hours west of Gainesville, I'm not as completely surrounded as one may think.
Again, I can go months on end and completely forget Florida State University resides just four miles from my present location. Since these cities embody the stereotypical college town, I would think it would be much harder to be a non-Bama fan living in Tuscaloosa, or Georgia fan in Opelika, Florida fan in Athens, Bama fan in Baton Rouge, or Seminole in Gainesville. But for a town of just around 250,000 people, Tallahassee is anything but a college town. So outside of the small west section of town, I adore this community, am able to proudly call this place home, and the only possible reason I could utter those words is because I could completely ignore FSU, if I wanted to.
But I can't. Not anymore.
Jameis Winston changed this town. Not the Jameis Winston that won a national title or the Heisman trophy, but the one who allegedly raped a young woman. (Yes, I said allegedly.) No event has shaped the FSU fan base, not the multiple national titles or any of the "wide rights", and how they interact with the outside world, than the Winston scandal and subsequent media coverage.
See, I used to hate FSU fans because they were an arrogant bunch that treated me, as an Alabama fan, like a second class citizen. I was from Alabama. They were from Florida. End of story.
But now? My issues with FSU fans, mainly the ones that prowl the internet, reach much deeper.
The Winston rape allegation coverage has changed this fan base. That year and half of constant negative publicity forced FSU fans to circle the wagons and become a unified force against those who would seek to discredit Winston, the program, or the University. They saw any attack on Winston as not just an attack to the individual player, but to the legacy of Florida State. With #FSUTwitter leading the way, they took on an "us against the world" mentality and embraced the evil empire role.
The most recent acts of violence against women by two FSU players has emboldened what was an already ill-tempered, constantly on-guard fan base. They've been here before, just months ago, forced to defend a person, who if not talented at football or perhaps played for a team to the east (or south), would likely catch their ire, not defense.
I've seen (lived) this before with my own fan base. During the early 2000's Alabama's name was mud and for good reason. The program was coming off its second NCAA probation in just 10 years, and had the reputation of being the dirtiest program in all of college football. ‘Bama fans during that era, much like FSU fans today, came together as a unified group with a common defense. Many times that defense looked irrational and misguided, but we came together for a common cause— to restore the good name that was the University of Alabama.
It created a chip on our shoulder, one many of us still hold on to today. We remember the poorly researched, ill-informed— down-right ignorant— ramblings of certain media outlets whose aim wasn't to shed truth on a complicated case, but sell, at that time, more magazines or newspaper issues.
And FSU fans are honestly no different. They see the coverage of incidents involving FSU players as pushing a narrative and trolling for page views. Each time they see poorly researched, ill-informed— down-right ignorant— ramblings of certain media outlets, their chip grows even larger. They still want to believe Jameis Winston is innocent and will likely defend Dalvin Cook until he's either found innocent or some type of video shows up laying all doubt to rest of his guilt.
As easy as it would be for me to do so, I find it hard to blame them for that. Not for the acts of victim shaming or social media attacks by #FSUTwitter, which led me to comment that FSU has the worst fans in all of college football, but for the defense of a football team they hold near and dear to their hearts.
Truth is the FSU fans I interact with on a daily basis are the best. Well, not the best but they are good, honest people, who just so happen to cheer for a football team that has a very serious internal discipline problem. These are my friends, co-workers, and family members. But just like any fan base, and this is certainly true for Bama fans, they, at times, struggle to see through their garnet and gold glasses.
When news broke a few months back that Cyrus Jones was arrested for domestic violence every Bama fan held their breath and hoped for the best. And lest we forget just a few short months ago this fan base was divided over the handling of the recruitment of Jonathan Taylor. It was our coach who was the poster boy for allowing domestic violence and putting ability over character. Now, once again, it's FSU and Jimbo's turn.
Glass houses are only dangerous to those inside if they choose to throw stones. And it is a choice. Deciding to hold back judgment isn't excusing the deplorable acts by certain FSU players and members of the fan base, but as someone who has been following big time college football for his entire life, I know that at any given moment it could be my team's turn to be in the spot light, and not the big shiny lights after a national title. Deep inside we know all too well that it takes just one player to sign a napkin or take cash under the table by a booster and the dream we've been living since 2007 could all be over.
The problems that reside with-in FSU aren't unique to Tallahassee and the actions by certain athletes are not a true representation of this town. Indeed, they can be found inside every football program in the country. Unfortunately for Tallahassee and its citizens, FSU fans or not, it is our turn to take the brunt of a world that is quick to judge and slow to understand.