Allegations of unwanted groping have reportedly spurred the NFL to open an investigation into Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, BuzzFeed News was among the first to report Friday. The NFL's investigation centers around allegations Winston groped the crotch of a female Uber driver in 2016. Winston has denied the allegation, calling them "false."
A former driver for Uber identified only as Kate, told BuzzFeed she'd arrived for a passenger pickup at around 2 a.m. in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona on March 13, 2016. Kate claimed that although there was a small crowd of men — who told her the identity of her famous passenger — at the pickup location only Winston got in the car for the ride.
"I started driving, and right away, Jameis behaved poorly," Kate reportedly told BuzzFeed News. Kate claimed Winston shouted homophobic slurs at pedestrians from the car.
Kate claimed Winston asked her to go through the drive-thru of a restaurant called Los Betos Mexican Food during the ride. It was there in the drive-thru that Winston allegedly reached over and "grabbed" Kate's crotch, removing his hand only after she asked him, "What's up with that?" Kate reportedly told BuzzFeed she "was frozen" at the time and felt Winston was "very physically imposing."
According to BuzzFeed News, the NFL's special counsel for investigations reached out to Kate earlier this week with a letter notifying her that the league had been informed of her allegations and had opened an investigation into them. A spokesperson for the NFL confirmed the investigation to Bustle. "The allegation was shared with the NFL and we have reached out to Uber to request any information they may have," NFL Spokesperson Brian McCarthy told Bustle in an email.
Winston was quick to deny the driver's allegation Friday. "A news organization has published a story about me regarding an alleged incident involving a female Uber driver from approximately two years ago," Winston said in a statement released Friday. "The story falsely accuses me of making inappropriate contact with this driver."
Winston went on to say be believed the driver was "confused" about how many people had been in the car at the time of the alleged incident and about who had been sitting in the passenger seat. "At the time of the alleged incident, I denied the allegations to Uber, yet they still decided to suspend my account," Winston said in his statement.
An Uber spokesperson confirmed to Bustle that the company had permanently removed Winston as a rider in 2016 shortly after completing its own investigation into the driver's allegation, which were reported shortly after the trip took place. "The behavior the driver reported is disturbing and wrong," an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.
Uber's community guidelines prohibit any kind of sexual conduct, consensual or otherwise. Specifically, the guidelines state users "shouldn't touch or flirt with other people in the car" and emphasizes that means "no sexual conduct with drivers or fellow riders, no matter what."
But a representative for Winston reportedly told BuzzFeed News, "the only reason [Winston's] name is being dragged in to this is that his Uber account was used to call the ride." The representative said it was their and Winston's understanding that the Uber driver had been unable to identify the specific individual who allegedly touched her when the complaint was first filed in 2016. In his own statement, Winston appears to suggest he does not agree with the driver's claim that he was the only passenger.
According to NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche, Winston will remain an active player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the investigation occurs and will not be placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List, which is reportedly reserved only for players who've had charges filed against them. Winston's team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said they were currently in the process of obtaining more information about the allegations and reports of the NFL's investigation. "We take these matters seriously and are fully supportive of the investigation that is being conducted by the NFL," the team said.
This isn't the first time allegations of sexual assault have been against Winston. According to BuzzFeed, a fellow student accused Winston of rape in 2012 when the pair were both attending Florida State University. Winston also denied that allegation.
It's unclear how long the NFL's investigation might take or what specific action might be taken against Winston if the league determines the Uber driver's allegations are true. However, the NFL's personal conduct policy stresses that everyone in the league "must refrain from 'conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in' the NFL." The policy goes on to state everyone in the league "must endeavor at all times to be people of high character" and "must show respect for others." Violations of the personal conduct code will be met with "appropriate disciplinary action," according to the policy. Separate and unrelated instances of personal conduct policy violations have seen players suspended with and without pay for one or more games of a season.
While Winston has denied the driver's allegation, he also issued an apology if his presence or demeanor during the ride made the driver feel uncomfortable. "While I am certain that I did not make any inappropriate contact, I don't want to engage in a battle with the driver and I regret if my demeanor or presence made her uncomfortable in any way," Winston said in a statement. "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."
While being sure to stress "this accusation is false," Winston went on to say he was "supportive of the national movement to raise awareness and develop better responses to the concerns of parties who find themselves in these types of situations."