One NFL player seeking to give his image a boost may have just done quite the opposite while talking to a group of school children. Though it began as a good-natured effort, some are questioning whether the athlete simply put his foot in his mouth or if perpetuated harmful sexist rhetoric.
While speaking to a class at Melrose Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, 23, told students they could do anything they put their minds to. However, while doing his best in the hopes of motivating the young students, he also seemed to be pushing each gender into stereotypical roles. He undoubtedly implied that the girls in the class were not as physically or mentally strong as the boys were, which subsequently caused an uproar.
In full, Winston told the class.
“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down, 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!”
The full video of Winston’s trip to the classroom is below:
Of course, the young students didn’t read too much into his comments. However, parents who were in attendance immediately expressed concern.
According to ESPN, Winston has been trying to change his image after he was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student at Florida State University five years ago, the case of which was covered in the documentary The Hunting Ground. He thought motivating school children would be the appropriate step towards rehabilitating his damaged image.
The team agreed with Winston, and still seems to, at least based on their recent tweet of support.
Bonnie Volland, a speech pathologist at the school, viewed Winston’s comments as incredibly irresponsible and felt compelled to speak out.
“We’ve been working so hard with our students giving them hopes and dreams and helping them raise their expectations. In the beginning, it was so good because he was talking about, ‘You can do it!’ and really giving our students a positive message,” she said. “One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I’m strong, too.’”
Several Twitter users shared the sentiment.
When asked about that particular part of his 40-minute speech later, Winston told the Tampa Bay Times, “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,” and that “during my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”
He did not apologize.