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McGRATH: Three decades later, Quintin Dailey case remains all too relevant

FloridState quarterback Jameis Winstdoes Heisman Trophy pose for photographers after winning award Saturday Dec. 14 2013 New York. (AP Photo/Julio

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston does the Heisman Trophy pose for photographers after winning the award on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Updated: December 21, 2013 5:44PM

My wife pays more attention to the cooking shows than she does to college football, but the Heisman Trophy piqued enough interest to prompt a query about the likely winner after a TV promo for the presentation show.

‘‘Probably the criminal,’’ I replied, referring to the sexual-assault allegations that dogged Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in recent weeks.

Dogged him but didn’t derail him. Winston, a redshirt freshman, was a landslide winner — and a historic one as the youngest recipient of the top honor in the college game.

Also a pretty lucky one after Florida authorities declined to bring charges that could have resulted in prison time for the 19-year-old. Suspected drug cheats only can hope for similar leniency from voters in the Baseball Hall of Fame election this year.

The investigation of the year-old incident didn’t inspire much confidence in Florida law enforcement, and maybe Winston got off easy. But he got off, so it’s a cheap shot to refer to him as a criminal. I don’t have a Heisman vote, but I felt as though I had seen this movie before.

Thirty years ago, I was covering University of San Francisco basketball, which meant covering Quintin Dailey. ‘‘Q’’ died three years ago, but his name lives on in infamy: Every obituary led with his role in the scandal that prompted the Dons to drop basketball for three years, at a time when they were among the elite teams on the West Coast.

It started with sexual-assault allegations by a nursing student, who accused Dailey of taking indecent liberties with her in the dorm where she worked as a counselor. ‘‘Not Quintin’’ was the incredulous reaction of campus police, including the chief, who used to slap fives with basketball players as they jogged off the court. He also suggested there was a Dailey lookalike roaming the campus, trying to pass himself off as ‘‘Q,’’ and maybe he was the perp. We’ll keep an eye out for him.

Now the woman turned incredulous. Her father brought her to city police, who were less awed by Dailey’s celebrity. He had gone downtown without a lawyer, and after two hours in a room with veteran sex-crimes detectives, he would have confessed to causing the San Francisco earthquake
and fire.

But the smart lawyer Dailey hired got the charge reduced from sexual assault to simple assault. Probation rather than jail time, no registering as a sex offender. The woman went along with the deal. What she really wanted was an apology and assurances that Dailey never would prey on another vulnerable young victim. She was heroically strong throughout the ordeal, conscientious and compassionate. I hope she has had a nice life.

Dailey certainly didn’t. Despite that carousel of baggage, the Bulls took him in the first round of the 1982 draft. Again unchaperoned, he displayed an appalling lack of remorse at his introductory news conference, prompting John Schulian to eviscerate him in a scathing column that turned the city against him. Dailey became a pariah here. Drug and alcohol abuse compounded his problems.

The Dailey narrative described a good guy who had dealt with a lot in his young life. His parents died within a month of each other while he was in high school. He moved in with an aunt but pretty much raised himself while developing an All-America-caliber game.

His skills also gained him membership in a privileged class. A no-show summer job came courtesy of one university booster, a free rental car from another, walking-around money from a third. Maybe Dailey viewed sex as just another entitlement.

Such entitlements are more prevalent now than they were then. How is a young athlete supposed to develop a realistic sense of himself when adulation, swag and adult fawning start coming his way at the onset of puberty? High school games and college choices are broadcast nationally. Shoes, gear, trips, cash . . . NBA membership requires a year of college, but the lifestyle starts in high school. With it comes an inflated self-importance that doesn’t always recognize ‘‘no’’ for what it means.

Kobe Bryant’s image has recovered nicely from an incident in a Colorado hotel room that could have sent him to prison if his complainant hadn’t changed her mind about cooperating with the prosecution.

Jameis Winston will recover, too, if he hasn’t already. In football-mad Florida, the issue is how he will perform now that this ‘‘distraction’’ is behind him.

Quintin Dailey never recovered. Some will say his troubles were of his own making, and there’s ample truth to that. But his personal disintegration was a sad bit of business that bothers me still.

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