Even in victory, dread hangs over the Bucs
Tom Jones, Tampa Bay Times, published 20 November 2017

A dark cloud is hanging over this football team. Itís a heaviness. A dread. A dread for what might have happened in the past and what might happen in the future. And that makes it hard for fans to truly enjoy what happened Sunday. The Bucs won a football game. They beat the Dolphins, 30-20. Thatís two victories in a row. Thatís kind of a big deal. They won on the road. Thatís kind of big deal, too.

They are 4-6. Not great, but certainly better than where things stood a couple of weeks ago. There should be hope now, even if itís faint, even if it is just a flicker. But, still, itís hard to embrace this sign of life from the Bucs with the gloom that is surrounding them because of these nasty allegations involving Jameis Winston.

Last week, an Uber driver claimed Winston groped her in March of 2016. Itís a serious allegation, one that has shaken the Bucs franchise and their fan base. How could it not? Maybe itís true, maybe itís not. Maybe weíll never know. But thereís nothing maybe about the disturbing nature of this claim.

And, just as troublesome, this isnít the first time someone has accused Winston of forcing himself onto a woman. Winston has his supporters, especially those who consider themselves Bucs or Florida State fans. Or, especially, both. Many refuse to believe any of these allegations. Winston has his detractors who absolutely believe everything that has been claimed.

Some believe he is being railroaded with false allegations from someone with ulterior motives. They wonder what happened to innocent until proven guilty.Some believe this is just the latest example of an entitled man abusing his power of celebrity to take advantage of a woman. They were bothered that he was even on the sidelines Sunday.

But regardless of which side you are on, we all can agree on this: Itís troublesome to wonder if the face of your franchise is a really bad guy. Itís embarrassing to know that the rest of the country looks at your quarterback and their first thought has nothing to do with football. Itís loathsome to wonder if there are going to be more than two allegations of creepy or criminal behavior. Itís a really bad thing that the NFL is investigating your leader.

For the past few days, you would have to think there are serious conversations going inside the offices of One Buc Place. You would think that ownership is talking about this, that the general manager who put his faith into Winston is talking about this, that the coach whose job might depend on Winston is talking about this. They must be asking themselves if they made a huge mistake drafting Winston in the first place. They must be asking if itís prudent to think Winston is still centerpiece of the franchise for years to come.

Meantime, itís a national story. When you watch those preview shows, more people are talking about the Bucs quarterback who didnít play Sunday than the one who did. Who know what happens next? Maybe nothing. Maybe this quietly goes away. Or, maybe Winston gets suspended. Maybe the Bucs have to deal with this into next season. Winston will deal with it the rest of his life.

And while the Bucs went out and played well enough to beat a lousy Dolphins team, this Winston stuff was palpable, even after the game. "Thatís his business, so ..." quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said when asked about Winston on Sunday.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, looking pensive when asked if any of this has been a distraction, could only say, "Impossible to measure. I really donít know about that. I donít hear much talk about that. Iím not sure."

Did he do it? Did Winston cross the line in that Uber last year? I honestly donít know. Iím not claiming he did. Iím not saying he didnít. Like many, I really donít know what to think. But I do know this: This is a mess for the Bucs. And itís not going away anytime soon. Rightly or wrongly, as long as Winston wears a Bucs uniform, it will always be there. Even, like Sunday, when they try to enjoy a much-needed victory.