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Saturday, Dec 16, 2017
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Bucs' belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

TAMPA — Belief is the biggest attribute a quarterback can bring to his team. Belief in his talent. Belief in his commitment to winning. Belief in his ability to bring everyone together and have his voice lead the path forward.

But the belief the Bucs have in Jameis Winston has been shaken with another situation that is rife with he said, she said.

The news that Winston is being investigated by the NFL for allegations by a female Uber driver in Scottsdale, Ariz., that he groped her when they stopped at the drive-through of a Mexican restaurant on March 13, 2016, caught the Bucs completely by surprise.

The Uber driver said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that Winston "reached over and he just grabbed my crotch" and kept his hand there for "three to five seconds." She said Winston removed his hand only when she looked up in shock and said, "What's up with that?"

Coach Dirk Koetter seemed unaware of the investigation until he was informed of media reports at the end of practice Friday.

Winston, 23, called the accusations false and contested the unnamed female driver's assertion that he was her only passenger, suggesting someone else was in the passenger seat.

The Tampa Bay Times listened to a voicemail from Uber to Winston that said it was following up a report "we had from one of your recent trips where you or someone in the vehicle with you had some inappropriate behavior."

Uber confirmed to the Times on Friday that on March 13, 2016, a driver in Arizona reported the incident allegedly involving Winston shortly after the trip in question and that his app was cancelled.

The Bucs failed to mention Winston's name in a prepared statement. "We are in the process of obtaining further information regarding today's media report," the Bucs' statement said Friday. "We take these matters seriously and are fully supportive of the investigation that is being conducted by the NFL."

Winston will be on the sideline today as the Bucs' inactive third quarterback against the Dolphins, which had been the plan before Friday's news, to rest his injured shoulder.

But the tentacles of the latest allegations involving Winston reach well beyond what did or did not happen at 2 a.m. in the desert, where the Bucs quarterback had spent that day participating in Kurt Warner's charity flag football event.

• It could damage the connection between the community and the Bucs organization, run by the Glazer family since 1995.

When Winston entered the NFL draft in 2015, his reputation had taken a severe hit from allegations of sexual assault by a female student at Florida State. Although he was never charged with a crime, last December he settled a lawsuit with Erica Kinsman of Zephyrhills, who had accused him of rape four years earlier.

The Bucs did an extensive background check on Winston, interviewing more than 75 people to determine whether he had the character to become the face of an NFL franchise.

"After everything we've done and where we're at right now, we're comfortable where Jameis is at," Joel Glazer said at the owners meetings in Arizona before the 2015 draft, which saw the Bucs draft Winston with the first overall pick.

The Bucs are currently 3-6 and fighting for every ticket holder to fill Raymond James Stadium. Allegations like this won't help.

• The allegations could result in a suspension of Winston by the league. Ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady what happens if you don't fully cooperate with the NFL on its investigation. Ask Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott if you need to be charged with a crime before getting a six-game suspension.

So far, Winston and his representatives have refused to identify any other people Winston claims were in the car that night in Arizona. While his loyalty to those passengers is admirable, he might want to consider the loyalty it took for the Bucs to draft him in the first place.

Winston played hurt in four games and lost all of them this season. He will miss at least another two. A suspension in 2018, his fourth season, could make the Bucs reluctant to sign him to a long-term contract that could be worth around $100 million.

• Winston's standing in the Tampa Bay community will take a hit. Earlier this month, nearly 200 people helped Winston launch his nonprofit Winston's Dream Forever Foundation to help some of Tampa Bay's neediest children.

Which community leaders want to write checks to support an NFL player who keeps getting accused of unwanted sexual advances?

Even Winston, in his statement Friday on Twitter, felt the need to apologize for something.

"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," Winston said.

A lot of people at One Buc Place are uncomfortable today. Belief can be fleeting.

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]m. Follow @NFLStroud.

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