When word first emerged of a potential three-game suspension for Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston coupled with a report that Winston likely won’t appeal, it felt like the result of a negotiated compromise. And if it was indeed the product of plea bargain versus the usual unrelenting iron fist of NFL justice, the deal possibly extended to the manner in which the suspension would be communicated.
The NFL, through its in-house media operation, announced the three-game suspension not via a press release or publication of the letter sent to Winston but through the release of a statement from Winston. Obviously, the statement from Winston doesn’t delve into the details of what the league concluded that he did to justify the suspension.
Next came the NFL’s statement on the issue, with the specific misconduct buried at the bottom of the fourth paragraph and limited to this assertion: “touching [a female Uber driver] in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.”
So where is the letter that the league sent to Winston explaining the basis for the punishment? You know, the multi-page letter outlining everything he did wrong, signed by an NFL executive?
Last August, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott received a six-page letter chronicling his alleged misdeeds, and it was quickly made available to the media. As part of the league’s P.R. blitz, one of the members of the league’s external expert advisory panel was made available on a conference call to discuss the allegations and the investigation.
In Winston’s case, no letter has been issued or leaked, and no conference calls to discuss the details have been scheduled. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in response to the question of whether the letter will be released, “I don’t think so.”
So what’s going on here? The explanation may be simple, and obvious. This is the first NFL player suspension for sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, and the league, the Buccaneers, and Winston realize that a detailed letter like the one Elliott received could light a fuse that blows up Winston’s entire career.
That’s probably why Winston isn’t fighting this one, and that’s probably why this one feels like the result of a negotiation. Winston doesn’t want the details to be shared with the public in the kind of graphic fashion that could end his career, and the NFL likely wasn’t interested in another public fight that would reveal a Keystone Cops investigation and/or a kangaroo court appeals process.
Neat and tidy as it may be, the outcome conceals plenty of important facts, including the things Winston specifically did wrong, the reasons for departing from the supposed baseline of a six-game suspension, and whether and to what extent the past rape allegation against him — which was still pending in the form of a civil lawsuit when he allegedly or actually sexually assaulted the Uber driver — did or didn’t influence the outcome.
It still remains to be seen whether the fallout from this incident pressures the Bucs to cut the cord on Winston. The chance of that becomes less likely if the NFL successfully keeps covered up the specific details of what Winston supposedly did.