- Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
- The NFL suspended Jameis Winston three games following an investigation into an allegation that he groped an Uber driver.
- Many felt the NFL let Winston off easy with such a short suspension, a sentence that was negotiated, in part, to eliminate a lengthy appeals process.
- There is also substantial evidence that Winston’s camp attempted to spin the story to make it sound like he was innocent of the allegation and only guilty of not following proper NFL procedures.
- Any attempt to spin the story backfired when the NFL declared Winston guilty of touching the woman “in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.”
- Winston has been given many passes despite his history of legal trouble and inappropriate conduct, but that may soon end.
On Thursday, the NFL announced that it had suspended Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. But what is peculiar, interesting, and telling is what happened between the time of the alleged incident and the announcement of what critics deemed a light punishment.
The length of the suspension angered many fans as well as people in and around the NFL because it was half the length of the minimum six-game suspension mandated by the personal conduct policy, and it was shorter than the suspension Tom Brady got for Deflategate.
But mostly, the suspension felt like a weak slap on the wrist for a person with a history of legal issues – including a previous accusation of raping a fellow student at Florida State. It also felt like a slap to the face of those who had been willing to give Winston a clean slate and a chance to show he had matured once he entered the NFL.
While Winston got off light with his suspension, it turned out that the three-game suspension was part of a negotiated settlement between Winston and the league. And there is substantial evidence that his camp attempted to spin the story into something much more benign than the sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Those efforts backfired, and his reputation in the league is likely ruined forever.
The attempt to control the story started early
The spin started when the allegation first came to light that an Uber driver had filed a complaint with the company accusing Winston of groping her in the drive-thru of a restaurant during a late-night ride in Arizona.
Winston accused the driver of lying and strongly suggested that he was never alone in the car with her and that he was not the person in the front passenger seat. This was later supported by Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ronald Darby, who said he and Winston were in the backseat of the car, adding he was “confident that nothing inappropriate in nature happened in the car that evening and Jameis did not have any physical contact with the Uber driver.”
That may have been the case for the first ride, but apparently, there was a second Uber ride that evening. The attorney for the third passenger from the first ride, former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks, told ESPN that Winston became intoxicated and “unruly” at a nightclub later in the evening, and that his friends sent him home in a second Uber car alone.
Despite Winston’s strong initial denials, he later told NFL investigators that he was drinking that night and “doesn’t remember everything,” according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.
The attempt to turn a mountain into a molehill backfired
Later, the impending three-game suspension was first reported by ESPN Tallahassee radio host Jeff Cameron. According to his source in “Winston’s camp,” the suspension would be due, at least in part, to Winston’s failure to notify the NFL of the allegation that had been made against him, something required by the NFL.
Being suspended for a “failure to report” sounds a lot more benign than being suspended for sexual misconduct.
Multiple NFL insiders were quick counter the claim, noting that Cameron has a close relationship with Winston (he attended Winston’s NFL Draft party), that failing to report the allegation would not be the reason for the suspension, and that Cameron’s report was an attempt by Winston’s camp to spin the story.
The attempt to downplay the reason for the suspension backfired when the NFL made it clear that they believe Winston is guilty of what he was accused of doing.
From the NFL’s announcement of the suspension (emphasis ours):
“In his letter advising Winston of the suspension, [NFL Special Counsel for Conduct Todd] Jones stated after full consideration of the record, including a meeting with Winston and his representatives, and a written submission by his attorneys, that the driver’s account of the incident was consistent and credible. As a result, the investigation had concluded that Winston violated the Personal Conduct Policy by touching the driver in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent and that disciplinary action was necessary and appropriate.”
The NFL never mentioned Winston’s failure to report.
If all else fails, blame the alcohol
Before the NFL announced the suspension, Winston issued a statement that included an apology to the driver for “the position” he put her in. However, Winston never admitted to groping the woman and seemingly blames any “uncharacteristic” actions on alcohol.
“It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize,” Winston wrote. “In the past two and a half years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities and events that have helped me grow, mature and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life.”
That excuse might be too little, too late in the court of public opinion, where Winston is now on his third or fourth offense.
Former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Damien Woody came down hard on Winston’s excuse and the excuse others have made that he is just young.
“I’ve had alcohol, but I’m not out here groping people,” Woody said on ESPN. “So don’t give me this whole alcohol thing as some excuse as to your actions. It is clearly unacceptable … I don’t want to hear ’24 years old. He’s young.’ There are a lot of young men in the National Football League who are doing great things, who are not doing these type of things, who don’t have this pattern of behavior.”
Woody went on to say that it is time to stop giving Winston a pass.
“So why should we give him a pass?” Woody said. “We need to start holding people accountable.”
My thoughts on Jameis Winston…. pic.twitter.com/7ruBzZpybQ
— Damien Woody (@damienwoody) June 28, 2018
The NFL did do the one thing that no court has done to Winston – they pronounced him guilty of a serious offense. While they did let Winston off light with a three-game suspension, the tide seems to be turning against Winston, and eventually, the Bucs and the rest of the NFL will stop giving him a pass.