Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston gets ready to pass during a game against the New Orleans Saints last November. Photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for violating the league's violating personal conduct policy, the NFL announced Thursday.
Winston's punishment comes in the wake of a lengthy investigation by the NFL into allegations that he groped a female Uber driver in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Todd Jones, the NFL's special counsel for conduct, informed Winston of the suspension while outlining multiple facets of the probe, including evidence gleaned from telephone and business records as well as data retrieved from electronic devices and other communications.
"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 league statement read.
While Winston had steadfastly denied the accusations since the allegations came to light in November 2017, he acknowledged his actions in a statement Thursday while apologizing to the victim.
"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," said Winston in the statement. "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."
Barring a change of heart, Winston will not appeal the suspension.
The NFL said in its statement that Winston advised the league office that he accepts the discipline. Winston noted in his statement that he looks forward "to putting this behind me and I will continue to work hard every day to be a positive influence in my community and be the best person, teammate and leader I can be."
Winston's suspension will go into effect on Sept. 1. He will miss the season opener at New Orleans and home games against reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before he is eligible to return on Sept. 25.
Winston is eligible for all Tampa Bay's preseason activities, including exhibition contests.
"All members of our organization are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Personal Conduct Policy of the NFL," said the Buccaneeers in a statement. "We are disappointed that Jameis put himself in a position that has been found to violate the policy and accept today's decision by the Commissioner."
The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Winston was accused by the Uber driver of behaving "poorly" as soon as he got in the car about 2 a.m. local time on March 13. The driver told Buzzfeed that he asked her to stop at a drive-thru restaurant during the ride.
While in line, the driver said Winston, who was the only passenger in the car, reached over and "grabbed" her crotch for three to five seconds.
Winston maintained his innocence and his account was supported by former Florida State teammate and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, who said he was with the quarterback in the backseat of the car and insisted that nothing occurred.
However, Darby's account was deemed inaccurate after league investigators discovered he was not in the vehicle the entire time.
The league informed Winston that he will be required to obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate in any recommended program of therapeutic intervention as part of his discipline. If Winston fails to meet any of those terms, he will be subject to further punishment.
"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," said Winston in his 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."
Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, re-signed to a one-year contract in the offseason, is expected to start for the Buccaneers while Winston serves his suspension.
The 24-year-old Winston became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. He was hampered by a shoulder injury in 2017, limiting him to a career-worst 3,504 passing yards with 19 touchdowns in 13 games.
Tampa Bay picked up the fifth-year contract option for Winston in April. Under his current salary of $705,000, Winston would forfeit $124,000 for the three-game suspension.
Winston has completed 939 of 1,544 passes for 11,636 yards with 69 touchdowns and 44 interceptions in 45 career games with the Buccaneers. He has also rushed for 513 yards with eight scores.