The NFL is investigating an allegation that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston grabbed a female Uber driver’s crotch in 2016, BuzzFeed News has learned.
A letter, viewed by BuzzFeed News, was sent from the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, Lisa Friel, to the Uber driver on Thursday. “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 read.
"The matter is under review," Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, told BuzzFeed News. "The allegation was shared with the NFL and we have reached out to Uber to request any information they may have."
Kate, a female Uber driver, was hailed to the lively party scene of downtown Scottsdale, Arizona to pick up a passenger around 2 a.m. on Sunday March 13, 2016. There, Kate told BuzzFeed News that a small group of men excitedly told her that she would be chauffeuring someone famous that night — Jameis Winston, 2013 Heisman Trophy winner and now quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The men placed Winston in the front passenger seat — Kate said he was the only passenger. “I started driving, and right away, Jameis behaved poorly” by shouting, in part, homophobic slurs at pedestrians, said Kate, who did not want to be identified by her full name for fear of negative attention and potential backlash from football fans. He then asked to stop for food.
Waiting in line at the drive-thru of Los Betos Mexican Food, “he reached over and he just grabbed my crotch,” Kate said, alleging that Winston held his hand there for three to five seconds and removed it only after she looked up in shock and said, “What’s up with that?”
“I wasn't just creeped out,” said Kate, who had been driving with Uber for more than two years at that point. (She no longer drives for the service.) “I was frozen.” She described Winston as “very physically imposing.”
“I mean he's an NFL quarterback and I’m 5 ft 6. I’m not prepared for that. So I completely froze,” she said, worried that she might provoke an unwanted reaction.
Winston’s representative, Russ Spielman, issued a statement denying the allegations: "We categorically deny this allegation. It is our understanding 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."
When asked about the NFL's letter, he said, "I don't have a comment on that, what you're hearing is the first time I'm hearing about that."
Winston later published a statement on Twitter:
"A news organization has published a story about me regarding an alleged incident involving a female Uber driver from approximately two years ago. The story falsely accuses me of making inappropriate contact with this driver. I believe 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. At the time of the alleged incident, I denied the allegations to Uber, yet they still decided to suspend my account," he said.
"I am 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, but this accusation is false. 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."