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Sunday, Dec 10, 2017
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Fennelly: If this is true, Jameis Winston is done in this town

TAMPA — Why should we believe this man?

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is being investigated by the NFL concerning an allegation of him groping a female Uber driver in Scottsdale, Ariz., in March 2016.

Winston denied the allegations Friday in a statement:

"The story falsely accuses me of making inappropriate contact with this driver," Winston said. "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. … While I am certain 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."

It takes me back to the day the Bucs made Winston the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. It takes me back to what I wrote that morning, that the Bucs shouldn't take Winston. I couldn't shake the feeling. But I put it aside. I judged Winston by his actions after he arrived in Tampa Bay. So far, so good, I kept telling myself.

Now I'm shaking again.

If these allegations are true, Winston is done in this town. Maybe not within the Bucs organization, but with anyone who gave him the benefit of the doubt.

In some ways, this is just another story bobbing in a sea of alleged sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by famous, powerful people. There is a new story every day.

The problem for Winston is he has a past, which included being accused of rape while at Florida State. He was not charged with a crime but eventually reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit filed by his accuser.

On the day he was introduced at One Buc Place, Winston asked to be judged by his actions in the community. He had supporters I trusted and respected, men such as FSU and Bucs icon Derrick Brooks.

"I look forward to gaining everyone's trust," Winston said at the time.

I go back to a conversation Winston had with three reporters before his second NFL season. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was asked if character matters for a quarterback.

"You can't be anything without character," Winston said. "The way I describe character is what you do when no one is looking. When everyone is looking, you can't tell someone's character when everybody's watching you. It's about what you do when no one is looking."

I'm holding him to that.

Maybe the allegations can't be proven. There are differing accounts over how many people were in the vehicle. Winston, 23, said he wasn't in the passenger seat.

But perception is everything. This looks awful because it's again about men imposing their will — Winston allegedly imposing his will, as he has been accused of in the past.

Maybe we wouldn't look these same allegations the same way if they were leveled at Tom Brady. But with Winston, and a guy like Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who also has a past, you begin to wonder.

I kept an open mind after the Bucs drafted Winston. He gained my trust.

He just lost it.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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