What started off as a heartwarming, energetic meet and greet at an area elementary school quickly turned into a pep talk that excluded many students in the room.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston last month was speaking to a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at a St. Petersburg elementary school, when his words took a turn for the chauvinistic worse, while attempting to include a young male student who seemed bored by Winston’s pep talk.
While trying to speak directly to the young men in the room, the message he sent to the females present was deafening:
“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. 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 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!”
According to the Tampa BayTimes, this exclusion and blanket statement of female behavior left many parents and teachers in attendance visibly upset.
“We’ve been working so hard with our students giving them hopes and dreams and helping them raise their expectations,'” Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at the elementary school, told the Tampa Bay Times. “In the beginning, it was so good because he was talking about, ‘You can do it!’ and really giving our students a positive message.”
The girls took note of Winston’s words, Volland said: “One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I’m strong too.'”
The severity of Winston’s message is enhanced due to past accusations of sexual assault during his days as a student athlete. While attending Florida State University in 2012, Winston was accused of raping a fellow student. The student sued Jameis Winston and the school, accusing Winston of “sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape,” while accusing the university of mishandling the case.
While Winston was never formally charged for the accused rape, the shadow of doubt still looms, and in January 2016 the university paid $950,000 to the student as a settlement in their lawsuit.
Although Winston did not publicly apologize for his statements, he admitted to the Tampa Bay Times that he used a “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.”
Whether the “poor word choice” was really just that or indicative of Winston’s own unconscious bias, the controversy comes as abuse against women and football culture are under national scrutiny. In Texas, top law enforcement officials announced they would launch an investigation into Baylor University’s pattern of sexual violence against women at the hands of its football players and the university’s own refusal to take action.
The investigation launches as a football player is suspended after his girlfriend accused him of violence and making violent threats.
Two weeks ago Democratic State Rep. Ronald Gutierrez filedHR 644, urging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “to direct the Texas Rangers with investigating the obstruction of justice surrounding the sexual assault of young female students at Baylor University.”
“The level of cover-up that has been both reported and also admitted at this point is appalling,” according to the filing.