The Internet is in an uproar over a video of NFL player Jameis Winston telling a classroom of elementary school kids that girls need to “sit down” and “be silent.” Boys on the other hand? They were told to stand up and shout their pride that they can be anything they want if they put their mind to it.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback was a special guest at Melrose Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Florida earlier this week, where he delivered a 40-minute long speech meant to empower the kids from 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. According to the Tampa Bay Times, parents and teachers became upset by some of the overtly sexist statements Winston made to the kids.
Bonnie Volland, a speech and language pathologist at Melrose, was one such teacher. Speaking with the Tampa Bay Times, she said:
“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. One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I’m strong too,'”
While most of the speech delivered by Winston was, by all accounts, upbeat and inspiring, it was the following statements that many feel are both damaging to young girls to hear and concerning for young boys to be told to copy:
“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” began Winston, “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?” He continued, “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!”
That’s right — Winston was asking the boys to shout, “I can do anything I put my mind to” as the girls sat in silence watching this unfold.
Considering Jameis Winston has a history of aggression toward women, making these statements to a group of elementary school kids is even more troubling. According to Vice Sports, Winston was accused of raping a female student at Florida State University back in 2012, where he was a student athlete before he went on to join the NFL.
While it’s important to note that Winston was never officially charged with a crime, the accusations against him were serious, to say the least. He was sued by his accuser for “sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape.” Eventually, the school settled with the woman after being accused of mishandling her case. She was awarded $950,000, according to the New York Times.
According to The Guardian, the NFL player has since apologized, saying:
“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. During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”
Still, the bottom line is this: We should all be mindful about the language we use to teach kids about gender roles. Gone are the days when girls should be told to sit down and be quiet — and good riddance. Girls are just as strong, smart, and capable as boys, and to be told by a celebrity figure that they are not equal to boys is not only demeaning and potentially damaging (for both boys and girls), but it’s also a step in the wrong direction toward full gender equality.
So to that little girl who told her teacher, “I am strong too,” this author has one thing to say: Darn right you are!More On