I’m a woman. I’m an NFL fan. And, after the NFL decided that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston only deserves a three-game suspension for sexually assaulting his female Uber driver, I no longer have any clue how to reconcile those two things.
I mean, it’s not a surprise to me that the NFL doesn’t care about women. I saw the Ray Rice video, and read the league’s pathetic attempts to at first defend, and then redeem, its mishandling of that case. I’ve thoroughly covered its investigations into domestic violence allegations against Johnny Manziel, Josh Brown, Ezekiel Elliott, and Greg Hardy; its abuse of cheerleaders; drafting of abusers; and often-bungled attempts at domestic violence and sexual assault prevention.
But this feels different.
It’s been rumored for almost a week that Winston was poised to receive a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy during an incident with a female Uber driver — who is known publicly only as “Kate” — that occurred in Scottsdale, Arizona in March of 2016. (The NFL learned of this incident in November of 2017, after BuzzFeed News reported the story.) But, on Thursday, the NFL made it official — this indeed would be the woefully inadequate response.
In a statement, the NFL said that Winston was suspended for “touching [Kate] in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.”
In other words, this is the NFL saying, without equivocation, that it believes Winston sexually assaulted a woman. The league said that Kate’s account of the assault — that she picked Winston up from a bar in Arizona, his friends put him in the front seat alone, and at a drive-thru he reached over “and put his fingers on my crotch” — was “consistent and credible.”
And yet, the NFL still only suspended Winston for three games. Three. Games. The minimum suspension for violating the personal conduct policy is supposed to be six games. And yet, a full-on sexual assault — one that the league agrees occurred — only gets three.
That is how little the NFL cares about survivors of sexual assault. Three. Games.
1 game: Josh Brown repeatedly terrorizes his ex-wife
3 games: Jameis Winston sexually assaults an Uber driver
4 games: Tom Brady asks ball boys to underinflate footballs
16 games: Martavis Bryant uses marijuana
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) June 28, 2018
It turns out, the NFL doesn’t care about honesty, either. When BuzzFeed News first reported Kate’s allegations back in November, Winston publicly called her a liar. He even had a friend, fellow NFL player Ronald Darby, lie for him and corroborate his cover story — that Winston was not alone in the Uber with the driver, and that he was actually sitting in the backseat with Darby, not the front seat.
Last week, we found out that Winston was a passenger in two Uber rides that night; Winston was in the backseat with Darby during the first one, but after a night of partying, Winston’s two friends sent him home alone.
Winston’s recollection of that evening seems to have changed significantly since November. On Thursday, he released a statement saying he accepted the suspension. “First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in. It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize,” Winston said.
(It seems worth noting both that the third person out with Darby and Winston that night — the one who was in the front seat during the first Uber ride that night — was Brandon Banks, a former Vanderbilt football player who in August of 2017 began serving a 15-year prison sentence for gang rape. Moreover, back in 2012, Darby was one of the witnesses who corroborated Winston’s account that he had consensual sex with Erica Kinsman, the woman who accused Winston of rape during his time at Florida State.)
While the NFL has found unique ways to botch practically all of its investigations and punishments into violence against women, this one stands out. It hurts.
Perhaps it hurts more because this incident was preventable. Winston was accused of sexual assault in college, but the Florida State University police completely dropped the ball on the investigation, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t even care enough about the accusation to reach out to Kinsman to hear her side of the story. Had Kinsman’s story been treated with any sort of sincerity or genuine concern, there might never have been a “Kate” story.
Perhaps it hurts more because the NFL has had every opportunity to learn its lesson, to stick to the policies it created, and yet it keeps choosing not to, time and time again.
Perhaps it hurts more because in the post #MeToo world, everyone is supposed to have a better understanding of what survivors go through, of how much courage it takes to come forward, and about how important it is to hold abusers accountable.
The NFL says that Winston grabbed a woman’s crotch without her consent. His punishment is three games. That is not accountability.
He’ll be back on the field before October. In seasons past, October marked Breast Cancer Awareness month in the NFL, with the players accessorizing with pink gear. It was the NFL’s way of showing you that it cared about women. They discontinued that campaign after the 2016 season.