Dear Mr. Winston,
In a climate where not all professional football players are cast in the best light, I applaud you taking the initiative to visit a classroom full of third, fourth, and fifth graders in St. Petersburg, Florida. The impact that you, an NFL superstar, had on that school community will resonate for years. You impacted the students, teachers, staff, and administration not just for that day, but for the rest of their lives.
I am writing to you while wearing many hats: coach, former player, and sports journalist. I am also a woman; a strong one, at that.
I am deeply disappointed that you perpetuated archaic gender roles and unfair stereotypes while speaking to this class of impressionable elementary school students. The scene I am referencing is linked to the photo below (click photo to watch clip). I am sure you remember it well:
After hearing the immediate backlash, you even later clarified what you meant in 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,” Winston said. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some”.
“For some?!” I believe that your clarification, void of a sincere apology, exacerbated this issue.
The scene in the Youtube video above was not a Freudian slip that could have been overlooked. It was a display of an institutionalized belief. Your belief that males should be strong and females should be quiet and complacent. Do you know how I know this is your belief? You carried on with this for over two minutes! Even so, in your clarification (I’m not going to call it an apology-becuase it wasn’t), you said you were concerned with the boys in the audience. What about the girls in the audience? I’d like to ask: What was their takeaway from your visit?
I empathize with those girls. When I was in fourth grade, I did a biography project where I had to conduct research on, write a report about, and dress up as any prolific person I chose. Being extremely interested in sports, even at such a young age, I chose to do my biography report on former New York Giant Phil Simms, who quarterbacked the Giants to a Super Bowl victory in 1987. That year, a year before I was born, he was also named the Super Bowl’s most valuable player. If Phil Simms came to my school and carried on like you did with students in that St. Petersburg classroom, as a female sports-enthusiast, I would have been absolutely devastated.
You see, in that exact year of my young life, I had experienced institutionalized sexism first-hand. After trying out for Little League baseball (yes, with the boys), I knew I had performed better than most, if not all, of my male peers. When the phone call came that night I had not been selected by any of the 10 “Major” Little League coaches, that I had been chosen by the coach of the “Minor” Little League Marlins team, I was absolutely devastated. I cried. I cried for days. Minor league was for losers. What was wrong with me? What didn’t the head coaches see?
I went on to make the All Star team for three consecutive years in the Minor League, but was one of the only Marlins to never have gotten a call up to the Majors. As a freshman in high school, when I had to switch to softball, I, on day one of tryouts, made the varsity team. That year, the team was comprised of eight seniors, two juniors, and me. A freshman. I started at both second base and at shortstop that year, playing over a junior and a senior, respectively. What I am trying to say is: I had the talent and the baseball I.Q. to make Major Little League and, because the men selecting the teams held the same, exact belief you do, Mr. Winston, I was never given the opportunity I knew I deserved (even as a fourth grader).
Remember, you, an NFL superstar, spoke to an audience that was completely impressionable. What damage control does the school staff, teachers, and administrators have to do now at that school? For example: What happens when, at recess, a girl wants to play kickball with the boys and they tell her she can’t because they are “strong” and she is not? Growing up, the boys always allowed me to play sports with them at recess in elementary school and at lunch in middle school. You see: sexism isn’t inherent, it’s taught. You taught a bad lesson that day in St. Petersburg.
I will not remain “silent”. Girls are strong, Mr. Winston. To remedy this situation, maybe you should host a talk for girls… perpetuating the same message. Have the girls stand up, flex, and say they are strong. That’s the only thing I can think of that would make this better. Please spare us of your backhanded clarification that lacks a real apology!
Danielle McCartan, M.Ed.
I discussed this topic, in-depth, on my sports radio show, 60 Minute Overtime, on Sunday February 20, 2017 (90.3FM-WRPR). Click below to listen. Tune in to my live video stream every Sunday at 11am on http://www.Facebook.com/CoachMcCartan.