Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the coming N.F.L. season for an incident involving an Uber driver that occurred more than two years ago.
The suspension, handed down on Thursday, came after an investigation into a report by a female Uber driver who told the website Buzzfeed that Winston made an unwanted sexual advance. The incident supposedly occurred in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Ariz. The report in BuzzFeed was published in November, about 20 months later.
Buzzfeed reported that the driver said Winston groped her crotch.
The N.F.L.’s investigation team, led by Lisa Friel, looked into the incident.
Winston said he would not appeal. “I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in,” he said in a statement. “It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize.” He also noted that he had stopped drinking.
The N.F.L. investigation found that “the driver’s account of the incident was consistent and credible.”
Winston remains eligible for preseason training and games. He will miss games against the Saints, the Eagles and the Steelers.
Winston is set to earn just over $8 million this year in salary and bonuses. Next year, the team has an option to pay him nearly $21 million, according to Spotrac.
Winston is the latest star player penalized under the league’s strengthened personal conduct policy. Last season, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension for an incident that occurred before he entered the N.F.L. The league has been criticized for not taking a tough enough stance against players involved in sexual assault and harassment cases.
In 2014, in the wake of several cases involving domestic violence, the league strengthened its personal conduct policy, increasing penalties. The league also established its own investigation department. But in 2016, the league was caught flat-footed again when it suspended Giants kicker Josh Brown for just one game. Documents made public later showed the extent of Brown’s abuse against his wife, and the league was forced to suspend him a second time, for six games.
Winston is no stranger to controversy. He was accused of sexually assaulting a female student while at Florida State. He did not face criminal charges, and in December 2014 an investigation by Florida State determined that he did not violate any of four sections of the university’s code of conduct. The investigation into the allegations was attacked by the accuser’s lawyer, who complained that detectives had seemed most interested in finding reasons not to pursue charges against Winston, who won a Heisman Trophy and led his team to a national championship while in college.
He was also involved in a case of shoplifting involving $32.72 worth of crawfish and crab legs. He later characterized the misdeed as “youthful ignorance.” Winston was also suspended for a game against Clemson after he yelled a crude statement inside the F.S.U. student union. At a news conference, Winston called the act “selfish.”
N.F.L. teams, including the Buccaneers, knew all this. Winston was the first overall pick in the draft in 2015.