Jameis Winston's elementary school appearance marred by misstep

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Contributor
Shutdown Corner

Since being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Jameis Winston has been making an effort to rehab his public image.

After his career at Florida State was marred by a rape allegation, accusations of stealing crab legs from a supermarket and a one-game suspension for repeatedly yelling a sexually-explicit phrase in front of other students on campus, it was necessary work.

As part of that work, Winston was at Melrose Elementary School in Tampa on Wednesday, and while trying to encourage the male fifth-graders in the room, he put down the girls. His intentions are up for debate, but it doesn’t come off well, and in print looks worse.

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Jameis Winston. (Getty Images)
Jameis Winston. (Getty Images)

Winston was teaching the students his “rules for life.” The third rule is, “I can do anything I put my mind to,” and when some of the students were not saying it back to him enthusiastically enough, Winston tried a new approach.

“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston said, via video posted by the Tampa Bay Times.

Uhhh … a misstep, but easy to skip over if that’s the worst of things.

Except, it wasn’t.

(You can watch the video here.)

“All my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right?” Winston asks. “All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. [The call-back isn’t as loud as Winston would like.] 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 [he dropped his voice deeper]. 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!”

Greg Auman, a Bucs beat reporter for Tampa Bay Times, was on hand for Winston’s speech to the students, and tweeted on Thursday morning that the reaction in the room was much as it’s been on Twitter and elsewhere: some were upset by what Winston had said, while others weren’t bothered.

Winston tried to explain his intentions after the fact:

“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, again via the Times. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”

Yes, Winston took time out of his day, during the offseason no less, to try to inspire some young students. And any of us who have given a presentation, whether in front of children or adults, have seen some less-than-enthusiastic faces. But if Winston really wanted to empower all of the children, why not say, “Boys, stand up!” and go through the call-and-response with them, and then do the same with the girls – have them stand up and shout the words of empowerment?

Maybe it was as simple as Winston misspeaking: had he said, “But the ladies, society tells them they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle … ” it wouldn’t have been great, but it’s better than what was said.

Being a young girl is to be bombarded with images and ideas, not enough of them positive – of models and actresses air-brushed to perfection on magazine covers, of political leaders trying to minimize the impact of women and dictate what they do with their own bodies. It is to see mothers and grandmothers and aunts work just as hard, often for less money, at a time when it’s more difficult than ever for families to prosper financially unless both parents are working.

Winston comes off as dismissive, and at least one little girl noticed: teacher Bonnie Volland said one female student looked at her and declared, “I’m strong too.” For the most visible athlete in the Tampa Bay area, the face of the region’s NFL team, giving the impression that girls are in any way less than boys is a major misstep. Winston is making the effort, but especially given his past, he has to be completely aware of what he’s saying at all times in public, especially in the presence of impressionable fifth-graders.

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