Jameis Winston May Sue CNN Over Campus Rape Documentary

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Last night, CNN aired a documentary called “The Hunting Ground.” It’s posited as a film that delves into the systematic problem of sexual assault and rape on campus, and since it was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2015, it’s been making waves. But in light of last night’s national airing, it may have just hit a seriously high-profile legal controversy. Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston may be threatening to sue CNN for the documentary’s coverage of rape allegations against him when he was a student at Florida State University.

Jameis Winston played for Florida State University and won the Heisman trophy before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a first round draft pick for the 2015 season. In December 2012, he allegedly raped another student named Erika Kinsman. While he was never charged, the investigation that followed was high profile, controversial, and messy. In fact, the New York Times claims that there was “virtually no investigation at all,” and also slammed Florida State for its handling of the allegations in a scathing investigation of the case.

Since the criminal portion of the case was put to rest, both Kinsman and Winston have sued each other. Kinsman sued Winston in April 2014 for the damage caused by the alleged assault, and he countersued her for defamation and other allegations the next month. Their suits have now been combined and will be heard in May 2017.

It’s within the context of this extensive legal back-and-forth, and Winston’s first NFL season, that “The Hunting Ground” is making headlines. The film features Kinsman talking about the alleged rape at FSU. Additionally, the film implies that Winston received preferential treatment during the investigation. Winston’s lawyers essentially threatened CNN with legal action if it actually showed the documentary. CNN’s Jeff Zucker received a letter that stated:

We are writing to formally caution CNN that the portions of the film ‘The Hunting Ground’ pertaining to Mr. Winston are false and defamatory to Mr. Winston. We urge CNN to reconsider the reckless decision to proceed with the broadcast of this deeply-flawed documentary in the face of the overwhelming evidence the film’s producers consciously and intentionally failed to adhere to any accepted journalistic standards.

“The Hunting Ground” has had plenty of other criticism levied against it–last week 19 Harvard professors (Harvard is one of the other schools featured in the documentary) claimed that the documentary distorted how it handled a sexual assault case.

Regardless of Winston’s threats, the documentary did air last night, so we’ll have to see if those threats of legal action were serious. And given the fact that not everyone seems happy with the documentary’s content and handling of certain cases, there may be more lawsuits down the road.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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