Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston’s visit to an elementary school on Wednesday left several adults present feeling unsatisfied. What was supposed to be entirely positive, mutually beneficial and non-controversial community outreach took a subtle, but no less upsetting, turn when Winston picked up on some boredom in the room.
“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston said. “But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken. You know what I’m saying? One day y’all are going to have a very deep voice like this (in deep voice). One day, you’ll have a very, very deep voice.
“But the ladies, they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong. I want y’all to tell me what the third rule of life is: I can do anything I put my mind to. Scream it!”
Singling out one sex and telling them they are strong and can do anything while implying the other should be subservient and quiet is not the best way to inspire young minds. While the assembled students, who ranged from third- to fifth-grade, may not have grasped the moment, the grownups in the room definitely noticed, per the TB Times’ report.
When presented with information that this portion of his appearance has raised eyebrows, Winston offered this explanation:
“I was making an effort to interact with a young male in the audience who didn’t seem to be paying attention, and I didn’t want to single him out so I asked all the boys to stand up,” he said. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”
There’s a lot to parse out here. First, why is Winston, whose own history with women is checkered, speaking to an elementary school? Surely there are less visible athletes and business leaders in the Tampa Bay area who have less baggage. Secondly, this history makes it nearly impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt.
His explanation is exactly how I read the situation. There is no part of me that believes he set out to intentionally diminish the girls in favor of the boys. It seemed more a split-second reaction made without weighing all the factors, than a premeditated talking point.
He challenged some young men’s manhood in a way a professional football player would challenge it. He challenged them to be loud and boisterous and implied that their meek response to speech was girly.
What Winston did was tonedeaf. His word choice was careless. His past affords him no slack in this department. I’ll readily acknowledge all of those points.
But I want to temper the outrage by pointing out that Winston was there, giving of his own time in an attempt to make a positive impact on his community. His goal was to lift everyone up, not to put anyone down. That he fumbled the opportunity a bit does not entirely negate his appearance — just as his past doesn’t preclude him from having a positive effect on the future.
There’s a big difference between trying to do the right thing and failing — then caring about it — than there is in not caring about doing the right thing in the first place. Winston’s’ transgression here is not one of malice but of carelessness.
This is not to excuse it but rather to put it in context.
Whatever you think of Winston, it seems reasonable to agree that more time has been spent analyzing his words than he spent choosing them. Perhaps this will be a lesson to learn in the future, when the next opportunity to shape young minds presents itself.
It’s an understatement to say that Winston is flawed. That he wants to do good shouldn’t be ignored. He’s a complicated personality in a complicated world. My fear is that reducing him to just a bad guy will diminish his willingness to work for good in the future.
Who wins in that situation?