Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston took time out of his offseason on Wednesday to speak to kids at a local elementary school. Winston gave the children at Melrose Elementary a heartfelt message – you can do anything you put your mind to.
Unfortunately, part of the message did not come across in the way that Winston intended it to.
During his speech, Winston noticed that many of the children seemed bored, with their heads in their hands. You know, classic kid behavior.
Here is what he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times, in order to rally the kids and get them pumped 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 (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!”
At a time in our country when attacks on women’s rights occur on a daily basis, this is not the message that we need to be sending to our children. Women and girls don’t need to be told to sit down and be silent, they need to stand up and have their voices be heard. Girls are strong, and shame on you if you believe differently.
After that portion of the speech, one girl turned to her teacher and said, “I’m strong too.”
The intent was not malicious, but the damage was already done. Winston would later apologize, saying that he used poor word choice:
“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.”
Did Winston intend to use this ugly stereotype during his speech? No, of course not. During his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston has been heavily involved in the local community. He has hosted youth camps, visited elementary schools and hospitals, and has participated in many charity events.
His message to the kid is always the same during these visits: believe in yourself.
The roots of that message stem all the way back to his playing days at Florida State. Even as a freshman, Winston was tasked with being a vocal leader in the locker room. Go back and watch his pre-game speech before the Seminoles faced off against Clemson in 2013. He references “my brothers” when talking to his teammates and “one team, one heartbeat” when referring to their unison.
In fact, the phrase “we strong” that he used in his message to the kids at Melrose Elementary school was commonly used by Winston at Florida State. That’s what he told his teammates before leading them on a game-winning drive to clinch the 2013 BCS National Title versus Auburn:
“I said, guys, we didn’t come here for no reason. I said, guys, this is ours, man. All the adversity that we went through for the first few quarters, it was ours to take. And like I’ve been saying, we control our own destiny. And those men looked me in the eye and they said, ‘We got this Jameis.’ And I said… we said… I said, ‘Are you strong?’ They said, ‘I’m strong if you’re strong.’ I said, ‘We strong, then.’”
See the similarities?
We control our own destiny. You can do anything you put your mind to. We strong.
But, of course, addressing kids at an elementary school is not the same as rallying your teammates on a potential game-winning drive.
Does Winston deserve criticism for using an ugly stereotype and telling girls to be silent? Yes, but at the same time we can recognize that this was not the purposeful intent during his speech.
Winston’s message to the kids has always been the same: believe in yourself.
Next time though, we can be certain that he will tell all the kids in the audience to be strong, not just the boys.