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How the hell did Jameis Winston not get a 6-game suspension?

The NFL says sexual assault “has no place in the NFL under any circumstances,” but gave Jameis Winston a slap on the wrist.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jameis Winston was suspended three games Thursday by the NFL after a league investigation found that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback touched an Uber driver inappropriately.

At best, it’s just half the suspension Winston should’ve received.

In 2014, the NFL instituted a policy with harsher punishments for players who commit domestic violence and sexual assault. At the time, the league was dealing with a PR nightmare after Ravens running back Ray Rice received only a two-game suspension for an aggravated assault arrest. Video showed Rice punching his then-fiancé, knocking her unconscious.

Goodell admitted in a letter that he “didn’t get it right” when he handed out the Rice punishment. Four years later, the NFL still isn’t getting it right.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances.

Our Personal Conduct Policy has long made clear that domestic violence and sexual assault are unacceptable. We clearly must do a better job of addressing these incidents in the NFL. And we will.

That’s what Goodell said in a letter sent to all NFL personnel in 2014, announcing an adjustment to the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. From then on there has been a baseline six-game suspension for violations involving assault, domestic violence, or sexual assault. Here’s the relevant section of the policy (emphasis mine):

With regard to violations of the Personal Conduct Policy that involve: (i) criminal assault or battery (felony); (ii) domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence; or (iii) sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent, a first 7 Personal Conduct Policy League Policies for Players | 2016 offense will subject the offender to a baseline suspension without pay of six games, with consideration given to any aggravating or mitigating factors

According to the NFL’s special counsel for conduct Todd Jones, Winston violated that policy in a way that seemingly should’ve warranted a six-game ban (again, emphasis mine):

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.

So how in the absolute hell was Winston only suspended three games? Was his groping of a woman without her consent not violent enough for the NFL? It’s certainly sexual assault — something the league claimed was “never acceptable” and had no place in the NFL.

And yet Winston was suspended just three games.

Winston also chose not to tell the NFL about the incident, which happened in March 2016. The league didn’t learn about it until November 2017 — 20 months after it happened — when a Buzzfeed report made the allegations public. Failure to report an incident that would constitute a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy is also grounds for disciplinary action.

But despite that additional violation, Winston was suspended just three games.

Then when the allegations finally came to light, Winston lied about the details. He said in a statement that “the accusation is false” and “the driver was confused as to the number of passengers in the car.” That was posted on Twitter and has since been deleted, but can be read in full here.

Winston’s college teammate at Florida State, Ronald Darby, said that he was in the car with Winston at the time of the alleged incident and that the quarterback did not grope the driver. But the NFL’s investigation found Darby wasn’t in the car the whole time. Another man who was there that night, Brandon Banks, who is currently in prison after he was found guilty for aggravated rape, said Winston was sent away in an Uber alone after he became intoxicated and “unruly,” according to ESPN.

But despite Winston’s lies, he was suspended just three games.

Part of the problem in trying to figure out how the NFL reached its conclusion is that it hasn’t, and isn’t expected to, release the letter sent to Winston detailing why he was suspended. The NFL had no problem quickly releasing its six-page letter to Ezekiel Elliott when he was suspended six games in 2017 following a domestic violence investigation. But in this case, the league is keeping things vague.

Elliott fought his punishment tooth and nail, battling the NFL all the way to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals before dropping his appeals fight in November. Winston agreed not to appeal his three-game ban as part of a negotiated settlement between Winston and the league, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

That deal, according to the NFL, involves “clinical evaluation” for Winston and cooperation in “any recommended program of therapeutic intervention.” The agreement — and likely his desire to move past the bad PR as quickly as possible — is why Winston has decided not to appeal.

In a statement Thursday, Winston apologized to the Uber driver “for the position I put you in” and used alcohol to explain actions that he still doesn’t fully admit to.

Winston also said that the incident — which he reportedly said he doesn’t remember — was “uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize.”

And yet it comes from someone who was accused of sexual assault in college, and was briefly suspended at Florida State when he “stood on a table at FSU and yelled, ‘F--k her right in the p---y.’” His argument that his actions — which again, he doesn’t admit guilt to — were “uncharacteristic” is difficult to believe.

The Uber driver said in a statement given to Buzzfeed that she appreciated the NFL’s investigation as well as the fact that Winston was punished. But she also said that his apology “needs some work.”

But somehow, despite his sexual assault, his cover-up of the incident, his lies about the details of the night, his questionable history, and his half-assed apology, the NFL gave him a slap on the wrist.

The league says sexual assault has “no place in the NFL under any circumstances.” Its actions say otherwise.