BuzzFeed reported on Friday that the NFL has opened an investigation into Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. A female Uber driver alleges that Winston grabbed her between the legs in March 2016.
The woman, whom Buzzfeed identifies as Kate – she did not want her last name used for fear of backlash from fans and negative attention – has received a letter from Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, which she shared with the news outlet.
“The League has been informed that you may have been the victim of such a violation perpetrated by Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Jameis Winston,” the letter reads in part. “The league takes allegations of this nature very seriously and has opened an investigation into this matter.”
League spokesman Brian McCarthy acknowledged to BuzzFeed that “the matter is under review” and that the NFL has reached out to Uber to share any information the company may have.
According to Kate, she was hailed to downtown Scottsdale, Ariz. to pick up a passenger around 2 a.m. on March 13, 2016. There, a group of men excitedly said she’d be driving someone famous and placed Winston in the front passenger seat of her car.
She said that Winston began behaving poorly almost immediately, shouting homophobic slurs at pedestrians, then asking Kate to take him for food.
It was while they were in the drive-thru line of Los Betos Mexican Food that Kate says Winston “reached over and he just grabbed my crotch,” and that he kept his hand there for three to five seconds. He removed it after she looked at him in shock and said, “what’s up with that?”
“I wasn’t just creeped out; I was frozen,” Kate told BuzzFeed. “I mean, he’s an NFL quarterback and I’m 5-foot-6. I’m not prepared for that. So I completely froze.”
The woman described Winston, who is listed at 6-foot-4, as “very physically imposing.”
Kate had been driving Uber for two years at the time of the incident, though she no longer drives for the service.
Russ Spielman, a Winston representative, denied the allegations in a statementto BuzzFeed.
“We categorically deny this allegation. It is our understanding the Uber driver was unable to identify the specific individual who allegedly touched this driver inappropriately. The only reason his name is being dragged into this is that his Uber account was used to call the ride,” Spielman said.
However, on Friday, Winston posted a statement in which he says he believes the driver “was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her,” and that “I am certain I did not make 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.”
The Buccaneers have also released a statement, which says, “We are in the process of obtaining further information regarding today’s media report. We take these matters seriously and are fully supportive of the investigation that is being conducted by the NFL.”
Kate filed a complaint with Uber shortly after Winston’s trip, writing that, “apparently a big athlete in the NFL…put his fingers on my crotch,” she wrote. “It wasn’t my stomach or thigh, it was my crotch and I want to be clear about that.”
She ended, “He is NOT safe for other drivers.”
Kate said she does not want money, and indicated that the bravery of other women speaking out about the actions of other famous men led her to want to tell the truth “about a powerful man who felt entitled to my body when all I wanted to do was my job.”
“I have been empowered by my sisters who have forged this path by speaking up, and I must do my part to make it a little more well traveled,” she told BuzzFeed. “If I’m silent, I fear that further harm will come to other women, if it hasn’t already.
“He sexually assaulted me, and I have every right to tell the damn truth about it.”
BuzzFeed corroborated Kate’s account with several of her friends, whom she had told of the incident. The reporter also reviewed text messages from Kate to a friend from that night.
Winston was investigated for rape while he was a student-athlete at Florida State, and was named in another campus report as sexually assaulting a second female student. Ultimately, he was not charged.