On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston elected to spend his day off making a visit to Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg. Winston presumably went to the school in an attempt to inspire young kids who may not always hear the uplifting message that he wanted to share.
Instead, he delivered an unforgivably and oddly bold message of sexism. In the middle of his talk, Jameis had all the little boys stand up and instructed the girls to stay seated.
“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. 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!” (via TBO.com)
That is so egregiously sexist that I can’t believe I’m writing a piece right now trying to convince you of it. But I have to, because there are apologists out there who think that Winston is being railroaded for misspeaking, improbably shoving aside the outdated gender stereotyping and horrifying presumption of female submission.
Here’s what he had to say for himself afterwards:
“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.” (via TBO.com)
Poor word choice? Are we all seriously going to buy that as an excuse?
According to those who know him, it’s very easy to believe that his intentions were good. I tend to agree, if only because the idea that the man went into an elementary school intending to offend an entire gender is absurd.
Unfortunately there are scores of men and women who think that intent is a ruling principle in these matters; as if to say that accidentally revealing sexist beliefs is that much better than just being outright with it.
Here’s a quick snapshot from the corner of the media that believes Winston should be lauded for his intentions, rather than criticized for telling a group of young girls to sit and stay silent as their male classmates stood over them, flexing and chanting a self-empowerment mantra:
“No one even told him he had to go do this. He went to the school on his own, the Bucs didn’t even know he was going to go. And so this is who Jameis has been. So yeah you hear this and you say ‘yeah, poor choice of words in terms of “a woman stay stilent”‘ but that that’s not who Jameis Winston has been… And it’s a shame that it’s gotten driven to this point…” -Mark Dominik, former Bucs GM, via ESPN.com
“He was not trying to put down young girls or tell them they can’t be anything they want to be. He simply made a bad word choice in trying to get the attention of these young boys who were in the back.” – Jim Trotter, via via ESPN.com
“He wasn’t being malicious about it.” – Jeff Saturday, via ESPN.com
There’s a big difference between trying to do the right thing and failing — then caring about it — than there is in not caring about doing the right thing in the first place. Winston’s’ transgression here is not one of malice but of carelessness. – Kyle Koster, via TheBigLead.com
As someone who's covered Jameis Winston ever day and happens to be female, I don't believe his intent was to disparage women.
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) February 23, 2017
I'll get crushed, but as a woman, I don't have a prob w/ Jameis Winston. He was trying to do something positive in community. Misspoke
— Britt McHenry (@BrittMcHenry) February 23, 2017
I saw dozens more in the media who echoed the same sentiment; that he simply misspoke while trying to do a good thing. The “cut him some slack” argument.
However – and I can’t believe I actually have to say this – good intentions aren’t an excuse. The bias against women and girls in this world is deeply ingrained in all genders. It is a pervasive force not because the majority of people choose to be sexist, but because it is so deeply-rooted that they often can’t even recognize that it’s there.
Latent sexism is the most dangerous kind in these politically-correct times. The loud and proud? They’re taken care of. It’s the insidious, institutional chauvinism that does the most damage; the kind that forces women to quit jobs or reconsider what they wear to a bar or endure accusations that they did something to deserve an assault.
Ignorance is, by nature, not malicious. That doesn’t make it okay. Just because Winston is trying to fix his image in the community doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking about how fucked up his comments were. From words like his come very real consequences for young men and women.
What he did and what he said, it matters. Because he’s not the only one who thinks that way.
In that moment, as fleeting as it may have been, those boys and girls got a real glimpse at what they can expect from the world. That’s unacceptable.