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NFL suspends Jameis Winston 3 games for groping an Uber driver

The Buccaneers quarterback was accused of groping an Uber driver in March 2016.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Miami Dolphins Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has completed its investigation into allegations that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston groped an Uber driver. Winston was issued a three-game suspension by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy, the quarterback announced in a statement Thursday.

“First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in,” Winston said, via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. “It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize. In the past 2 1/2 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.

“I know I have to hold myself to a higher standard on and off the field and that I have a responsibility to my family, community, and teammates to live above the platform with which God has blessed me. 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.”

The Buccaneers also released a statement Thursday:

On Friday, the Uber driver gave a statement to Buzzfeed:

The three-game ban was the result of a negotiated settlement between Winston and the league, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

Winston was never arrested or charged with a crime for this alleged incident. But the NFL’s personal conduct policy is broad and does not carry the same burden of proof as the criminal justice system.

A female student at Florida State also accused Winston of sexual assault while he was in college. He was never charged or convicted and later settled a civil suit for an undisclosed amount with his accuser. Jimbo Fisher also sat Winston for part of a game during his college career for standing on a table at FSU and yelling, “F—- her right in the p—-y.”

What happened? The driver responded to a call for a ride in Scottsdale, Ariz. in March 2016. According to the driver’s account, Winston rode in the front seat. The driver said that Winston grabbed her crotch as they waited in line in the drive-thru at a restaurant.

She reported the alleged incident to Uber shortly after it happened. Uber suspended Winston’s account with the app.

“The driver’s account of the incident was consistent and credible,” the NFL announced Thursday. “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.”

Arizona police told ESPN’s Jenna Laine that the incident was not reported to them at the time. The NFL sent the driver a letter in November 2017 confirming it would investigate the allegations.

“The League has been informed that you may have been the victim of such a violation perpetrated by Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Jameis Winston. The league takes allegations of this nature very seriously and has opened an investigation into this matter,” said the letter, which was obtained by BuzzFeed.

The NFL kicked off its investigation with a conversation with the Buccaneers’ head of security, Andres Trescastro, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Uber driver retained attorney John Clune, who represented the woman who claimed Winston sexually assaulted her while he was a student-athlete at Florida State University.

What did Winston say about it? Winston issued a statement after news of the NFL’s investigation broke.

“I believe the driver was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her,” the statement read. “The accusation is false, and given the nature of the allegation and increased awareness and consideration of these types of matters, I am addressing this false report immediately.”

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby backed up Winston’s story. Darby, Winston’s college teammate at Florida State, said that he was in the car with Winston at the time of the alleged incident. He said that Winston did not grope the driver.

"There were three of us in the car, not just one as has been reported," Darby said. "Myself and Jameis were in the backseat. I am confident that nothing inappropriate in nature happened in the car that evening and Jameis did not have any physical contact with the Uber driver. The accusations are just not true.”

However, the NFL concluded that Darby was not in the car for the entire ride:

ESPN reported that another friend who was at the scene disputed Darby’s version. Brandon Banks, a former Vanderbilt football player who is serving a 15-year prison sentence after being convicted of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery, said he was not in the car at any point with the alleged victim. He said that friends put Winston in an Uber by himself at the end of the night. The NFL did not interview Banks as part of its investigation.

What happens now? Winston will accept the punishment and does not plan to appeal the ruling. He’ll also be required to obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate in any recommended program of therapeutic intervention, according to the NFL.

“A failure either to obtain the evaluation or to cooperate with treatment will result in further discipline. In addition, a future violation of the Personal Conduct Policy will result in more substantial discipline, including a potential ban from the NFL.”

With Winston out for the first three games, the Buccaneers will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick to start at quarterback. Fitzpatrick will turn 36 during the 2018 season, but has plenty of starting experience and stepped in for Tampa Bay for three starts in 2017 when Winston suffered a shoulder injury. He was re-signed to another one-year deal after the season.

Winston will be eligible to participate in training camp practices and preseason games.

The Bucs open the season with games against the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers.