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NFL investigating allegations Jameis Winston groped Uber driver in 2016, report says

Update 2:27 p.m. EDT Nov. 17: Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston on Friday denied that he groped a female Uber driver in 2016, saying in a statement that he believes “the driver was confused as to the number of passengers in the car and who was sitting next to her.”

“The accusation is false, and given the nature of the allegation and increased awareness and consideration of these types of matters, I am addressing this false report immediately.”

BuzzFeed News reported Friday that the NFL is investigating the alleged incident, which happened in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The driver, who was not identified, told BuzzFeed that Winston “reached over and he just grabbed my crotch” as they were waiting for food in the drive-thru of a Mexican restaurant.

“I am supportive of the national movement to raise awareness and develop better responses to the concerns of parties who find themselves in these types of situations, but this accusation is false,” Winston said. “While I am certain that I did not make any 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.”

In response to the incident, Uber barred Winston from using the service.

Original report:The NFL is investigating an allegation that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston groped a female Uber driver in 2016, BuzzFeed News reported Friday.

>> Read more trending news

Lisa Friel, a member of the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, sent a letter to the female Uber driver on Thursday confirming that the NFL is looking into the matter, according to the report.

The female Uber driver told BuzzFeed News that she picked up Winston in the early hours of the morning on March 13 in Scottsdale, Arizona. She said that Winston “behaved poorly” immediately when he entered her vehicle.

Later in the drive, when they waited for food at a Mexican restaurant drive-thru, Winston “reached over and he just grabbed my crotch,” the woman told BuzzFeed.

Soon after the ride, the driver filed a formal complaint with the company, writing that “apparently a big athlete in the NFL” reached over “and put his fingers on my crotch.”

“It wasn’t my stomach or thigh, it was my crotch and I want to be clear about that,” she added in the complaint. “He is NOT safe for other drivers.”

Uber banned Winston from using the service in the future, according to BuzzFeed.

“The behavior the driver reported is disturbing and wrong,” an Uber spokesperson said Friday in a statement. “The rider was permanently removed from the app shortly after we learned of the incident.”

Winston’s representative, Russ Spielman, issued a statement denying the allegations, saying the Uber driver “was unable to identify the specific individual who allegedly touched this driver inappropriately. The only reason his name is being dragged in to this is that his Uber account was used to call the ride.”

While at Florida State, Winston was accused of raping a female student. The alleged assault, which occurred in 2012, was not made public until 2013 amid the controversy of a cover-up by the school and Tallahassee police.

The woman in the case, Erica Kinsman, sued the University. In 2016, she and Florida State reached a settlement that would pay her $950,000.

Winston is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.

The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

NCAA champion South Carolina women decline White House invitation

South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley said the only invitation that interests her is one to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

>> Read more trending news

That was one of the reasons why Staley declined an invitation from the White House to attend a ceremony Friday to honor college sports’ championship teams, ESPN reported.

“We did hear from the White House about attending tomorrow's event, but we will not be able to attend,” Staley said in a statement. “As I've been saying since our practices for this season started, all of our focus is on the season ahead. The only invitation we are thinking about is to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.”

The White House did not provide a list of the teams attending, ESPN reported.

The Gamecocks won their first national championship in April. At the time, Staley said the team would go to the White House because “it's what it stands for. It's what national champions do.”

However, Staley told The Associated Press in September that the South Carolina squad had yet to receive an invitation.

“That in itself speaks volumes,” she said, adding that she was not sure the Gamecocks would accept an invitation after “some things transpired over the last few months,” ESPN reported.

President Donald Trump hosted the 2016 NCAA football champion Clemson Tigers at the White House in June. The University of North Carolina's 2017 national championship men's basketball team said earlier this year it could not agree on a date for a visit.

WWE releases James Ellsworth

It’s official: On Wednesday, the WWE announced that it had released SmackDown Live wrestler James Ellsworth.

Ellsworth debuted on WWE television in the summer of 2016, where he was promptly destroyed in a match by Braun Strowman. However, Ellsworth’s unique look and “two hands and a fighting chance” line grabbed hold, and the WWE eventually brought him back to work with the SmackDown Live brand.

>> Read more trending news

Though Ellsworth was purely used as comic relief, he had an incredible year in the WWE. Ellsworth was in two WWE Championship matches against AJ Styles, was a participant in the Royal Rumble, and perhaps most notably and controversially, he was a bit part of the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match.

With the release, WWE has now released several talents over the past month. Main roster wrestlers Darren Young, Emma and Summer Rae were among releases a couple of weeks ago.

UCLA basketball players thank president for help after arrest in China

Three UCLA basketball players apologized on Wednesday and thanked authorities and President Donald Trump for the work done to get them home from China after they were accused of shoplifting.

>> Read more trending news

LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were questioned and arrested by police after they were accused of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store next to their hotel in Hangzhou, China. If convicted, the trio would have faced 10-year sentences in China’s prison system.

Ball, Riley and Hill apologized to their team members, friends and family Wednesday at a news conference.

“I’d like to start off by saying sorry for stealing from the store from China. I didn’t exercise my best judgement, and I was wrong for that,” Ball said. “I also apologize to the people of China for causing them so much trouble. I’m a young man, however, that’s not an excuse for making a stupid decision.”

The trio also thanked their fellow teammates, school officials and the U.S. government for the work done to bring them back to the United States.

"To President Trump and the United States government, thank you for taking the time to intervene on our behalf," Riley said. "We really appreciate you helping us out."

Trump on Wednesday morning asked his followers on Twitter whether they thought the trio would thank him for his intervention.

“Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!” he wrote.

Ball, Riley and Hill were released and allowed to return to the United States on Tuesday after Trump said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on their behalf.

“The basketball players, by the way — I know a lot of people are asking — I will tell you, when I heard about it two days ago, I had a great conversation with President Xi,” Trump said, according to The Washington Post. “What they did was unfortunate. You know, you’re talking about very long prison sentences. (The Chinese) do not play games.”

UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford said on Wednesday that Ball, Riley and Hill will be “suspended indefinitely.”

"These are good young men who exercised an inexcusable lack of judgment," Alford said. “At some point, they may be permitted to join team workouts, practices and meetings, but that timeline has yet to be determined. They will have to earn their way back."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.

Papa John's CEO apologizes for comments on NFL anthem protest controversy

The Papa John’s pizza CEO Twitter account issued an apology on Tuesday night for comments made about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

>> Read more trending news

The chain’s CEO, John Schnatter, had blamed slow pizza sales on the national anthem protests, saying in a Nov. 1 earnings call that “NFL leadership has hurt Papa John’s shareholders” and that the protests “should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.”

>> Related: Papa John’s says 'the NFL has hurt us,' cites declining sales

In a tweet, Papa John’s issued a statement Tuesday saying, “The statements made on our earnings call were describing the factors that impact our business and we sincerely apologize to anyone that thought they were divisive. That definitely was not our intention.”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling during the anthem last year to protest police violence against minorities. The protest got mixed reactions, but other NFL players -- and players in other sports -- have since followed Kaepernick’s lead to protest inequality.

President Donald Trump in September suggested that NFL team owners should fire players who refuse to stand during the anthem, telling a crowd in Alabama that “that’s a total disrespect for our heritage.”

Tennessee State player expelled after punching coach on sideline

After punching his coach on the sideline, a Tennessee State University football player has been dismissed from the team and expelled from school, according to a report by the Tennessean.

>> Read more trending news

Senior defensive end Latrelle Lee hit the Tigers strength coach T.J. Greenstone twice in the head Saturday and then knocked him to the ground on the sideline.

The Tennessean reported Tennessee State athletics director Teresa Phillips said Lee was kicked off the team by head football coach Rod Reed.

The 22-year-old from Dothan, Alabama, was expelled from the college on Monday, according to the Tennessean.

Report: 3 UCLA basketball players to return to US after Chinese officials drop charges

The three UCLA basketball players previously detained by Chinese police on shoplifting allegations were being allowed to return to the United States on Tuesday, according to a report by The Washington Post.

>> Read more trending news

LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were questioned and arrested by police after being accused of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store next to their hotel in Hangzhou, China. The three players were released on bond Wednesday and did not play in Friday’s game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai, China.

>> Related: LiAngelo Ball, UCLA teammates arrested in China could get 10 years in prison if convicted

The report of the players’ release comes hours after President Donald Trump said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the players’ case.

“They’re working on it right now... Hopefully everything is going to work out,” Trump told reporters on his tour of Asia, according to the Washington Post.

China Sports Insider reported Tuesday the charges of shoplifting were officially dropped for all three players.

Bar blackout: Tavern boycotts NFL, holds veterans fundraiser instead

A New Jersey bar held a self-imposed NFL blackout over Veterans Day weekend, instead holding a fundraiser for veterans and their families after players continue their silent, kneeling protests during the playing of the national anthem this season.

>> Read more trending news 

Rob Johnson, co-owner of Woody’s Roadside Tavern in Farmingdale, New Jersey, had the idea after one of his customers who is a Vietnam vet said that he felt disrespected by pro football players taking a knee to protest police brutality, NJ.com reported.

>>Related: 3 NFL players take a knee on Veterans Day weekend

So Johnson decided to turn off the games for Veterans Day weekend. He also gave 20 percent of food sales to the Green Beret Foundation and Special Forces Chapter 19 to help veterans and their families, NJ.com and The Asbury Park Press reported.

The bar was filled with supporters during Sunday’s event. One hour after it started, waiters had run out of glasses, with 300 to 400 customers, The Press reported.

Over the patriotic weekend, only three NFL players knelt before the games.

Related video:

Bobby Doerr, Red Sox Hall of Famer, dead at 99

The Boston Red Sox announced Tuesday the death of Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr.

Doerr, who is regarded as the greatest second baseman in Boston Red Sox history, died in Junction City, Oregon, at 99.

>> PHOTOS: Notable deaths 2017

Born in Los Angeles on April 7, 1918, Doerr was the oldest living Major League Baseball League player prior to his death.

He's also the only member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame to live to be 99 years old.

“Bobby Doerr was part of an era of baseball giants and still stood out as one himself,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry said Tuesday. “And even with his Hall of Fame achievements at second base, his character and personality outshined it all. He will be missed.”

>> Read more trending news

Red Sox President and CEO Sam Kennedy said the entire Sox family is mourning his passing.

“There is something fitting about Bobby Doerr becoming the patriarch of baseball, outliving all of those he played with and against,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Bobby was a special player, to be sure, a Hall of Famer, but he also commanded universal respect from all those fortunate enough to have crossed his path. We celebrated his return every time he came back to us here at Fenway Park, and we now mourn his passing, grateful for the wonderful memories he left.”>> Visit Boston25News.com for complete coverage

3 NFL players take a knee on Veterans Day weekend

Although it was noticed during the early NFL games on Sunday that no players had as of then decided to take a knee during the national anthem this Veterans Day weekend, that changed later in the day.

>> On Rare.us: Miko Grimes is slammed for saying Raiders allowed Derek Carr’s injury

Before the 4 p.m. game between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, players from both teams demonstrated. One of the Giants, Olivier Vernon, was seen kneeling behind a large American flag.

>> Read more trending news

Eric Reid and Marquise Goodwin with the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick's former team, also joined.

The NFL Players Association had asked all players to observe a two-minute moment of silence before games to honor veterans. Many players and teams did show support of the military.

Even players who have been protesting most of the season stood for the anthem this week, including the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, who stood before Thursday night’s game. Titans receiver Rishard Matthews walked onto the field holding hands with soldiers and stood with teammates for the anthem for the first time since President Donald Trump criticized players for protesting.

Bennett in particular wanted to show that his participation in the protest was not about the military.

Regardless of how the players planned to act this week, many people were open about the fact that they would be boycotting the NFL this weekend, including Sarah Palin.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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