Despite being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Winston entered the NFL with questions about his character, particularly in the wake of a 2012 rape allegation against him by a fellow Florida State student. No charges were filed by Tallahassee authorities in the case, but Winston came to an undisclosed settlement of a lawsuit brought by his accuser and, while at FSU, was punished for another incident in which he yelled a vulgar phrase about women in a campus dining hall.
His NFL suspension was levied after a league investigation into allegations made by an Uber driver that Winston grabbed her crotch for several seconds while sitting in the passenger seat as she drove him in Scottsdale, Ariz., in March 2016. That news emerged in November 2017, at which point Winston cast doubt on the driver’s account.
When the ban was announced last month, Winston issued a statement of apology in which he did not admit to the specific allegations but said it was “uncharacteristic” of him. Asked Thursday about having initially claimed that the driver was “confused” and “falsely” accused him, he replied (via the Tampa Bay Times), “I don’t want to rehash the situation. All I can do is focus on moving forward and putting this all behind me.”
Winston was more eager to talk about being a new father, having had a boy, Antonor, with his fiancee. “It’s been very exciting,” he said. “I feel like this is really a spiritual attack, because my son was born the day after the decision was made.
“So seeing things from a different perspective, I’m going to have to teach that man how to respect women, and how to live his day-to-day life,” Winston continued. “I really took it upon myself to be proactive and make sure that I’m being a great example for him and my fiancee.”
Winston emphasized that the groping incident “happened after my rookie year,” and asserted that he had “made a lot of positive changes since then.” He also said he understood that fans were “disappointed” in him, saying (via the AP), “I should have never put myself in that situation.”
Buccaneers Coach Dirk Koetter echoed that sentiment, telling reporters Thursday, “It’s disappointing that Jameis put himself in that position and put our team in that position. But at this point, it’s done and we have to deal with it.”
“I think your team has a lot of leaders, and being a leader starts with being a leader of yourself,” Koetter added. “I talk to guys about that often. I think that’s one of Jameis’ strengths as a football player is his leadership.
“But right now where we’re standing with the three-game suspension, it’s time that Jameis leads from the rear, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Koetter was noncommittal about reinstalling Winston as his starter when the quarterback’s suspension ends after the first three weeks of the regular season. “Week 4 is a long ways away,” he said. “So, you know, let’s worry about Week 4 in Week 4.”
Winston’s uncertain status was made apparent during Thursday’s practice, when Ryan Fitzpatrick, slated to be the starter for at least the first three weeks, took snaps with the first-team players while backup Ryan Griffin worked with the second team. Winston, according to reports, moved around and worked with first-, second- and third-string players.
“This actually gives me an opportunity to lead behind the scenes,” Winston said of his suspension. “I get a chance to observe my teammates and help them behind the scenes.”
The Buccaneers have reportedly chosen not to include Winston in any of their promotional materials, and he is not among four players featured in large murals at the team’s stadium.
“I can’t let this diminish all the hard work I’ve been doing in this community,” Winston said, adding, “I gave my all to this community. I gave my all on the field and off the field.”
Read more from The Post: