Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston said that he let the team, community and himself down in his first public statements to reporters on Thursday in the wake of his three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
"I know I have hard work to do to regain the trust of this community," Winston said, via the Tampa Bay Times.
Winston said that he is focused on moving forward after the NFL suspended him following a lengthy investigation found he inappropriately touched a female Uber driver in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"That's all I can do," the 24-year-old Winston said. "I've grown and learned from this situation. It's a learning experience.
"(I've worked) hard I since I've got here and I'm going to continue to work hard on and off the field."
Winston also said he recognized that some fans are disappointed in his actions.
"I understand they're disappointed; I'm disappointed. I should have never put myself in that situation," he said. "I tell the fans to continue to support this team, continue to support me because I've been here. My main goal as a leader is to be a huge advocate in the community and I've done that and I want to continue to do that."
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.
Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter was asked if Winston remains a team leader after his controversy and suspension.
"I think your team has a lot of leaders, and being a leader starts with being a leader of yourself. I think that's one of Jameis' strengths as a football player, is his leadership," Koetter said. "But where we're standing right now with the three-game suspension, it's time that Jameis leads from the rear. And there's nothing wrong with that.
"... Jameis is talking to guys behind the scenes, way more than anybody knows, one-on-one conversations, instead of being the guy out in front of the team."
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 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.
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.
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.