Three years after the New York Times descended on Florida to tell the nation Tallahassee law enforcement deliberately, perhaps even illegally, coddled FSU star athlete Jameis Winston and slipped him out of a 2012 sexual assault charge, the NFL is investigating another sexual assault complaint against Winston.
A female Uber driver now alleges Winston, quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, grabbed her crotch while she was chauffeuring him in 2016.
Identified only as Kate in an interview with Buzzfeed News, the woman recalled making her way to Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 13, 2016, where a lively party was still under way. When she arrived around 2 a.m., Winston’s friends told her she would be driving the famous athlete.
The driver alleged the Heisman Trophy winner “behaved poorly” as soon as he got in the car — shouting homophobic slurs at passersby — and soon asked her to stop for food.
While they were waiting in the drive-thru line of Los Bento Mexican food, “he reached over and he just grabbed my crotch,” she said, noting his hand lingered until she commented on it.
According to the New York Daily News, Kate asked, “What’s up with that?”
Winston, in a statement shared online, denied the accusation and encouraged those speaking out against sexual harassment in a bid to raise awareness.
“I am supportive of the national movement to raise awareness and develop better responses to the concerns of parties that find themselves in these types of situations, but this accusation is false,” he wrote. “While I am certain that I did not make any inappropriate contact, I do not want to engage in a battle with the driver and regret if my demeanor or presence made her uncomfortable in any way.”
Winston’s representative, Russ Spielman, in a statement to Buzzfeed claimed the “Uber driver was unable to identify the specific individual who allegedly touched this driver inappropriately. The only reason his name is being dragged in to this is that his Uber account was used to call the ride.”
But Kate told the news website Winston was the only person in the vehicle with her that night. And in a text sent to a friend following the alleged encounter — which Kate provided to Buzzfeed — the driver specifically named Winston as her alleged harasser.
The Buccaneer quarterback said he suspects “the driver was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her. 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.”
Kate is no longer an Uber driver. She did, however, also file a complaint with the ride-sharing app at the time, saying a “rider reached over and put his fingers on my crotch. It wasn’t accidental, and it was only for a very brief moment. It wasn’t my stomach or my thigh, it was my crotch and I want to be clear about that.”
A company representative informed her she would not be matched with the rider again and encouraged her to seek out law enforcement. She decided against it, citing fear of backlash as one of the primary reasons.
Winston said in spite of denying the allegations when he was questioned by Uber, “they still decided to suspend my account.”
Kate is speaking out now, she said, not because she wants any money from the athlete, but because she believes it is important.
Uber encouraged the woman to seek out law enforcement when she filed a complaint.
“I have been empowered by my sisters who have forged this path by speaking up, and I must do my part to make it a little more traveled,” she said. “If I’m silent, I fear that further harm will come to other women, if it hasn’t already.
“He sexually assaulted me, and I have every right to tell the damn truth.”
The NFL told the Daily News it’s aware of the allegations and has “reached out to Uber to request any information they may have. The matter is under review.”
The league’s special counsel for investigations, Lisa Friel, sent a letter to Kate on Thursday, confirming an investigation into the quarterback.
“The League has been informed that you may have been the victim of such a violation perpetrated by Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Jameis Winston. The League takes allegations of this nature very seriously and has opened an investigation into this matter,” the letter reads, according to Buzzfeed.
The Buccaneers in response to the accusation said they are cooperating fully with investigation and “in the process of obtaining further information.”
Walt Bogdanich’s stinging report in the Times in 2014 — as reported in Sunshine State News — “A Star Player Accused and a Flawed Rape Investigation,” details a variety of wrongs “committed” after a young woman claimed Winston raped her at a popular Tallahassee bar, Potbelly’s, in December 2012.
According to the Times, there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.
The police didn’t follow obvious leads that would have quickly identified the suspect and witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Winston as her assailant, it took the police two weeks to interview him and they never obtained his DNA sample even though they were asked to do so.
“The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then prematurely suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser,” the Times story said. “By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act.”
Jameis Winston, whose pattern of party behavior is chronicled in the story, won the Heisman Trophy just as the investigation ended.
Earlier in 2016, Florida State also settled a suit with the woman and was ordered to pay $950,000.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith. The majority of information on the current allegation about Winston was provided by the New York Daily News.