After violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, Winston negotiated a deal with the NFL and the NFLPA and accepted his three-game suspension—reduced from the normal six games. But why the reduction? It’s not that clear.
Once we reach the statement-releasing phase of any NFL controversy, the place beyond the sought-after penalty announcement where the findings are released and the true desires of parties are laid out in banal legalese, our eyes tend to gloss over.
Winston, in his own statement, said that he was sorry to the driver for the position I put you in but did not apologize specifically for the alleged crime. He also added that I have eliminated alcohol from my life. This is after Winston initially called the accusation false, saying I am certain that I did not make any inappropriate contact.
This was, as many have pointed out, a negotiation between the NFL, Winston and the NFLPA. Much like Tom Brady had the option to apologize and take a much shorter suspension during the Deflategate incident (he declined), Winston essentially had the chance to say he was sorry for … something … and avoid the league’s baseline standard for offenses of this nature, which is a six-game suspension.
Try to put yourself in Ahkello Witherspoon’s shoes. You’re 23, a third-round pick out of Colorado in 2017, and you had no idea what to expect in the NFL. Most guys say they knew back in college they’d make it in the league, but you’re honest, and you’ll admit you had no idea until you stepped onto the field in August 2017 and saw your first action as a 49er. Yet you thrived on a losing football team, earning the starting gig in late October. The team traded for a quarterback who led you to five straight wins to finish the season. A few months later they signed a three-time All-Pro cornerback to play opposite you. It’s all happening now, and there’s more.
In a year, he says, the football world will know your name. He invites you to a gathering that’s the first of its kind. On a sun-soaked practice field at Stanford University in late June, you meet Aqib Talib, Darius Slay, Xavier Rhodes and the guy who invited you, Richard Sherman. Between them they have 12 Pro Bowl nods, six first-team All-Pro selections, two Super Bowl rings and something like $155 million in career earnings before taxes.
You work out with them, running cone drills to fine-tune your footwork, and then you watch film of each of your targets and explain to the room what you were thinking on each play. Talib, Slay, Rhodes and Sherman do the same, and you start to think maybe you deserve to be in this room with these giants of the position.
I was watching these guys on TV in college, on Monday Night Football, in the playoffs, and to be around them is just a blessing. It’s surreal, Witherspoon says. I think this is the group I belong in, and turning on the tape confirms that.