Reported Winston Suspension Seemed Inevitable

Once the story got out, suspension seemed a foregone conclusion

If the report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter turns out to be true, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season, stemming from an allegation from an Uber driver that Winston grabbed her crotch during a ride in 2016.

While the official decision has not come down quite yet, a suspension for Winston seems almost a certainty given the NFL’s recent history with these matters as well as the publicly-reported facts of the incident.

Jameis Winston brings to mind a wide range of opinion in people. There are some people who are eager to defend Winston at the slightest hint of allegation, die-hard Bucs fans and/or Seminoles fans who cannot abide people casting aspersions on the quarterback. Others are swift to point out a history of minor slip-ups and major allegations. To some of his fiercest detractors, he is not just a symbol of another subpar Buccaneers team but a demonstration of ways the NFL itself has gone wrong, as though the league itself created Jameis Winston out of clay.

Opinions, however, have little to do with the issue at hand. Winston is going to be suspended, and the likelihood is that he was always going to be suspended.

Try not to bother with whether the NFL needed any actual evidence to suspend Winston. The NFL does not. It is not bound to the same standards as a court of law, and the NFL needs no burden of proof. This is a league that may very well have suspended one of the greatest players in the league’s history for a month even though science could explain how a football would lose some air in the extreme cold. If the NFL will ignore actual laws of physics when making its decision, it can be safely said that the burden of proof is not one carried by Roger Goodell.

Even reports that this was the result of an agreement between the NFL and Winston do not necessarily tell us much. The NFL has a history with these suspensions, for all anybody knows Winston might just want this to be over as soon as possible.

The more important court is not the inevitable court of law where this suspension will be litigated, but the Court of Public Opinion. The courtyards of the giant houses that people involved with the NFL build off the money the league makes are also worthy of consideration here.

In reality, the NFL has little choice but to suspend Jameis Winston from a business perspective.   Ever since this story became known in the public, the NFL was going to have to do something about it. When the facts of this situation are looked over, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where a suspension would not come.

While the incident may have occurred in the spring of 2016, it became widely known in the fall of 2017. Stories involving the word “grope” had become the order of the day, and it would be impossible in that particular climate to avoid. The NFL had to take these reports seriously.

Also keep in mind that Uber is involved. The incident allegedly took place in an Uber, and the service has banned Winston as a result. The quarterback has said he has appealed to the company to lift that ban, but as long as it remains in place the company is essentially saying they believe their now-former driver.

The alternative, of course, would be a large company that occasionally comes under a lot of scrutiny saying in the fall of 2017 that they did not believe one of their own drivers when she said she was touched inappropriately. If there had ever been a choice, there certainly wasn’t then.

Once Uber seemed to back the story, what was the NFL going to do? Their investigation, however it was conducted, almost certainly had to involve conversations with people at the ridesharing company. Clearing Winston would not just suggest they did not believe the driver, they would be going against Uber’s word. As Uber has an advertising budget, the NFL would not be wrong to see them as a potential client of sorts.

This would have been compounded by the league’s recent history of suspensions. Whatever one believes about this accusation against Winston, there is certainly no less reason to believe it than admittedly more serious claims against Ezekiel Elliott, who was suspended by the NFL. There is no less reason to believe that this incident in Scottsdale did occur than to believe that Tom Brady engaged in a long-running conspiracy to slightly underinflate a bunch of footballs. It would be notable, and raise some difficult questions, if the NFL were to choose not to suspend Winston.

From a football perspective, the fact that this suspension is likely to be handed down in a matter of days helps them prepare for the inevitable. With all of training camp and the preseason knowing this suspension is coming, or at least likely pending appeal, the Buccaneers will have no excuse for being unprepared.

The Bucs made sure to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick, and this might be a major reason why they did it. If a suspension is so much as possible, the backup quarterback becomes that much more important. Keeping a backup that has proven capable as a starter if need be could be taken as a sign that the Buccaneers expected a conclusion like this.

A lot of football is about preparedness. This is why coaches spend so much time just planning. The better-prepared squad usually wins a football game. This has been a problem recently for Buccaneers football, when it often seems that their opponents know the Bucs’ game plan better than the Bucs do. The quicker this gets settled—and depending on whether reports of Winston being part of a deal are true or not, it could be a while with trips to court included—the better off the Buccaneers will be.

Consider that, while Uber is not an official NFL sponsor at the moment, they would be a bad company to upset from the league’s perspective. Ridesharing companies such as Uber make good strategic partners when a league needs some good public relations.

This is because the name “Uber” suggests in many of our minds an image of a drunk person fumbling to order a car on their phone. Uber, Lyft, and their competitors are a safe way to get home for people who are drinking in an unsafe manner. Their very existence fights drunk driving.

There is always room for one more “official thing of the NFL.” Official ridesharing app of the NFL? If someone pays enough, they’re it. Official way to get McDonald’s inexplicably delivered of the NFL? That, friends, is for sale. A sale that, naturally, would become much more difficult if the two entities were in disagreement about an allegation about something in Scottsdale, AZ two years ago.

It is important to note that the NFL’s punishment and an Uber ban is all that will come out of this. The driver did not contact police and has not pursued any kind of legal action against Jameis Winston.

As a result, it is hard to believe that this is part of some international conspiracy to make Jameis Winston look bad. To hear some people tell it, that’s a thing. True believers speak as though there is a network of accusers and smartphone owners who are out to undermine the integrity of an NFL quarterback. People always seem to be filming him at just the wrong moment, like when he’s shouting strange and obscene things in a cafeteria or trying to eat his fingers to get his team fired up. Everybody wants his money, even this accuser who does not seem the least bit intersted in money.

Likewise, those who believe considerably worse things about Winston should not feel particularly vindicated here. The NFL is a controversial judge, a tough arbiter to hang a hat on. Jameis Winston’s life is not exactly ruined with the knowledge that he’ll only get thirteen game checks this year, and a man who can afford his own chauffeur is not going to be put out too much because he can’t use Uber anymore.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.