Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston probably meant no harm. But the words that came out of his mouth during a school appearance Wednesday were the kind he probably should have given more consideration to, and his response made that clear.
Via Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times, Winston was talking to a group of third- through fifth-graders at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg, when a group of boys became less than focused on him. So to get their attention, he asked the boys to stand up.
“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. 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!”
The message that kids can achieve anything they want if they work for it is valid and valuable. The message that girls are supposed to be quiet while boys are expected to take the lead took away from that immediately — especially in the context that it was coming from a player who faced sexual assault allegations while at Florida State.
“One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I’m strong too,'” said Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at Melrose.
Volland also said that Winston’s speech was well-intentioned and uplifting.
“We’ve been working so hard with our students giving them hopes and dreams and helping them raise their expectations,” she said. “In the beginning, it was so good because he was talking about, ‘You can do it!’ and really giving our students a positive message.”
To his credit, Winston seemed to realize the mistake, and when asked for comment later, said he was trying to keep the attention of the group.
“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,” Winston said. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”
It’s easy to suggest it as overblown, or the product of a climate some consider too politically correct. And Winston’s 23.
But telling any group of girls they’re expected to behave differently and have different expectations is something that should have been outdated generations ago, and Winston’s gaffe ought to remind everyone to think about the words they choose, and the messages they’re sending, even if they’re inadvertent.