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Jameis Winston case may turn on cooperation of accuser

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Miami Dolphin

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 19: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 19, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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On Sunday’s Football Night in America, Dan Patrick posed this question about the new allegations of sexual misconduct against Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston: How much trouble is he in?

Put simply, as much trouble as the NFL wants him to be in.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the Ezekiel Elliott case, it’s that the NFL can do whatever it wants to do, under the Personal Conduct Policy. It doesn’t matter if a player wasn’t arrested, it doesn’t matter if a player wasn’t charged.

It doesn’t matter if the player denies it. It doesn’t matter if another player from another NFL team issues a statement vouching for the player’s innocence.

All that matters is whether the NFL sufficiently believes the accuser. The NFL doesn’t have to fully believe the accuser; the league needs only to believe the accuser enough to find “credible evidence” of guilt.

In this case, the biggest question is whether the accuser, an Uber driver, will cooperate with the NFL’s investigation. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL didn’t even know about the accusation until BuzzFeed asked the NFL to comment on the case. Multiple other sources said that BuzzFeed most likely became aware of the situation because the alleged victim contacted the media outlet.

So will the accuser talk to the NFL, or was it enough to tell her story to the media? If she chooses not to cooperate (and the NFL has no power to compel her to do so), it will be hard for the NFL to take any action against Winston. If she talks, and if the NFL believes enough of what she says, Winston will be looking as a baseline suspension of six games.