TAMPA, Fla. — Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season by the NFL on Thursday, a decision that is a result of a seven-month investigation that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback allegedly groped a female Uber driver in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize,” Winston said in a statement. “I apologize to my teammates, the Buccaneers organization and fans for letting them down and for not being able to be out there for the first three games of the season.
“Although I am disappointed in the NFL’s decision, I understand the NFL’s process, and I embrace this as an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available to help me achieve the goals that I have for myself.”
Winston’s suspension without pay is for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, the NFL said in a statement.
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who won 2-of-3 starts for the Bucs last season when Winston sustained a shoulder injury, will start in his place. The Bucs open the season on the road against the New Orleans Saints, the first of three contests against divisional-champion teams.
The league began its investigation in November 2017 when a woman, who identified herself as “Kate,” told BuzzFeed that Winston reached over and grabbed her crotch while waiting at a drive-thru at Los Betos Mexican Food at 2 a.m. Restaurant management told ESPN that they did not have security footage of the drive-thru.
No police charges were filed but the driver did file a formal complaint with Uber. She told BuzzFeed that she wanted to tell the truth “about a powerful man who felt entitled to my body when all I wanted to do was my job.” Uber confirmed to ESPN that Winston’s riding privileges were revoked, but Winston did not notify the league of the complaint.
Winston denied the allegations and said he believes the woman was mistaken as to the number of passengers in the car and his location within the vehicle. Former Florida State teammate and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby said he was also a passenger in the vehicle and corroborated Winston’s account, which was that he and Winston were in the vehicle’s back seat and that a third person was in the passenger seat. Darby did not identify the name of the third passenger publicly.
The Uber driver’s attorney, John Clune, disputed Darby’s account, saying that Winston was the only passenger in the vehicle.
Clune also represented Erica Kinsman, a student who accused Winston of sexual assault at Florida State in 2012. The incident was investigated by Tallahassee police but charges were never filed. Winston was not suspended from the school or disciplined by the football team for the incident. Winston was disciplined on a separate incident, in September 2014, for standing on a table inside the university’s student union, shouting a sexually explicit internet meme.
Winston’s accuser at Florida State did file a civil suit against him, and he countersued. The suits were settled out of court in 2016 and specifics were not released. Florida State, was, however, found culpable in a Title IX lawsuit filed by Kinsman for its handling of her complaint. In January 2016, they agreed to pay her $950,000 but did not admit liability as part of the settlement.
The league had been criticized for its pace in the Uber investigation, with Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer, general manager Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter all saying they were “frustrated” by the lack of movement but have fully-cooperated. By mid-April, five months into the investigation, Winston still had not been interviewed by the league, but the team was cautiously optimistic he would not miss time.