The more things change, the more things stay the same for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston will miss the first three games of the 2018 regular season while he serves a suspension for allegedly grabbing the crotch of a female Uber driver at a drive-thru in Scottsdale, Ariz. in Mar. 2016. The NFL handed down its punishment after a seven-month investigation.

Naturally, Winston was contrite after the suspension was handed down.

“First and foremost, I would like to say I’m sorry to the Uber driver for the position I put you in,” Winston said in a statement released to NFL Media. “It is uncharacteristic of me and I genuinely apologize. In the past two and a half years my life has been filled with experiences, opportunities, and events that have helped me grow, mature, and learn, including the fact that I have eliminated alcohol from my life.”

Winston’s latest mea culpa continued when he apologized to his teammates at the start of training camp. He acknowledged that he has “hard work to do to regain the trust” of Buccaneers fans and those who have supported him. He also said he has to be a better man for his newborn son, Antonor, who was born the day after the NFL handed down their suspension.

It should be noted Winston initially denied the driver’s allegations, saying the driver (identified only as “Kate”) “was mistaken” and there were two other passengers in the vehicle. Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby, who said he was present in the vehicle, backed up Winston’s claim.

Their story was contradicted by former Washington Redskins defensive lineman Brandon Banks. Banks said Winston was “unruly” after getting intoxicated at a Scottsdale nightclub. Banks contends some of Winston’s friends called an Uber for him and Winston left the club alone.

Winston has refused to comment on the events of that early morning more than two years ago. He said he didn’t “want to rehash the situation. I want to focus on moving forward”. He maintains this was the reason why he didn’t appeal his suspension.

The NFL found Winston touched “the driver in an appropriate and sexual manner without her consent”. According to the NFL’s domestic violence policy, he should have faced at least a six-game suspension. Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reported the suspension was negotiated as part of the league’s continued failure to abide by its own policy.

Winston could face an additional suspension if he fails to comply with the conditions of his league-mandated plea bargain. This includes obtaining “a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate in any program of therapeutic intervention”. The league said a failure to comply could result in “more substantial discipline, including a potential ban from the NFL.”

The real question is what has to happen for Winston to get it? If his history tells us anything, the answer is unknown.

This isn’t the first time Winston has made headlines for his conduct involving women.

He was accused of sexual assault in 2012 while he was at Florida State. Criminal charges were never filed in that case but the accuser filed a civil suit. Winston countersued and an out-of-court settlement was reached in 2016. Florida State agreed to pay $950,000 in a Title IX lawsuit for its handling of the complain but did not have to admit liability as part of the settlement.

Winston also exercised extremely poor judgment when he stood in a public place on campus and shouted a profane reference to a sexual act as part of an Internet gag that was running rampant at the time. He was suspended for a game. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said at the time, “Our hope and belief is Jameis will learn from this and use better judgment and language and decision-making.”

He later posted a clip of himself and a Seminoles teammate on Instagram singing a line from a rap song that seems to endorse not taking no for an answer from a woman. The lyric was, “She said she wants to take it slow/I’m not that type of guy I’ll let ya know/When I see that red light all I know is go.”

Winston became the then-youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a victory in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game as a redshirt freshman. According to Forbes magazine, Florida State increased its football revenue from $43 million the year before they won the national title to $70 million the year after. The university also saw a spike in enrollment after the Seminoles’ championship season.

Naturally, it helped increased Winston’s value as he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Even Fisher benefited financially from having him on the team as he collected bonuses for winning the Atlantic Coast Conference and the national championship. Special rules for special talents was the mantra in Tallahassee (and everywhere else, for that matter). It seems to be the rule of the day in the National Football League as well.

Who can forget the public relations nightmare that unfolded in the aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal? The league scrambled trying to “fix” the problem. They instituted a policy that is seemingly ignored at every turn. Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith reminded us that seven players, including Winston, were suspended less than the mandatory six games for accusations of violence against women and sexual assault.

Colin Kaepernick has essentially been blackballed out of the NFL for taking a knee during the national anthem but players who are accused of putting their hands on a woman against her will are still employed with few repercussions. What part of the game is that?

As for Winston, when I first heard of the rape allegation at Florida State, I gave him the benefit of a doubt. After all, we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Collegiate athletes with pro potential are sometimes targets. I wasn’t prepared to believe that he would potentially screw up the millions of NFL dollars he could collect by being involved with something as sordid as this.

Today, he doesn’t receive that benefit of a doubt from me…not anymore. That benefit of a doubt completely evaporated. He is guilty of something: either the acts themselves and/or being pretty effin’ stupid. If he finds himself in the same damn situation for the same damn thing, Famous Jameis needs to look in the mirror. Eventually, he’s going to run out of chances. The NFL is not Florida State and they won’t hesitate cut ties with him if the court of public opinion demands such action.

The Buccaneers could be ready to move on from him now. There is no longer a mural of Winston outside of Raymond James Stadium. He is also not-so-conspicuously absent from the Buccaneers’ promotional materials, including team marketing videos for the upcoming season.

Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter didn’t exactly give him a vote of confidence. He was disappointed “that Jameis put himself in that position and the team in that position”. Winston isn’t even guaranteed his starting quarterback role when he returns from suspension in Week 4 at the Chicago Bears. Koetter was very vague when asked about who will be the starter.

“Week 4 is a long ways away,” Koetter said after revealing the Bucs will go with 14-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick during Winston’s suspension. “So, you know, let’s worry about Week 4 in Week 4. Right now, let’s worry about the preseason and getting ready for the (New Orleans) Saints.”

Add in the fact that Winston is 18-27 as a starter in an NFC South that includes a Super Bowl winner/future Hall of Famer (Drew Brees) and two former league MVPs with a Super Bowl appearance on their resumes (Cam Newton, Matt Ryan), the Bucs could be more inclined to push him out the door.

Ray Rice rushed for 6,180 yards (37 rushing touchdowns) with 3,034 receiving yards (six receiving touchdowns) and he never played in the NFL again after that infamous elevator video was released. Even after the league reinstated Rice, no team would touch him. It just wasn’t worth the public relations nightmare…and he actually produced.

Personally, I don’t care what happens to Jameis Winston. Whether he continues his NFL career or the Bucs escort him to the exit is of no consequence to me. This issue is bigger than him. It’s about the system that shields entitled individuals from having to answer for their actions. It’s not limited to professional athletes either. Rich, powerful men from all walks of life are being called out for their actions against women.

I know if I were accused of the things that Winston has been accused of, they would’ve put me underneath the jail. There is a system in place that shields and protects the Jameis Winstons of the world from having to accept the consequences for their actions. They feel entitled to do whatever they want to do, to whomever they want to do it to.

Winston is complicit for his actions but so is Florida State and its athletic department, the police in Tallahassee, Jimbo Fisher, and the NFL itself. We like to think since women who are victims are sexual assault are now more inclined than ever to come forward the tide is turning…but that is an illusion, a falsehood, a pipe dream.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL, the New York Giants, and the NBA. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.

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