When Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston spoke to elementary school students Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Florida, he tried to inspire them by preaching self-confidence.
Things could have gone better.
In his brief chat at Melrose Elementary School, Winston said this, which was captured on video posted to the Tampa Bay Times website:
“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston said. “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!”
Winston’s comments drew swift criticism after they began circulating online.
“While the moment might not have been malicious, it was damaging. It was hurtful,” wrote Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones. “No little girl should ever be told that she is supposed to be silent. No little girl should ever be made to feel subservient.”
Asked about his comments several hours later, Winston tried to explain himself.
“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, according to the Times. “During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some.”
But some continued to condemn Winston on social media.
“You have to ignore a lot in order to throw Jameis Winston up as a role model for 5th graders,” tweeted ESPN’s Jane McManus.
“At this point, Winston should have the self-awareness to understand how it looks when he tells girls in the room to be polite and silent,” McManus said.
Winston, 23, is no stranger to controversy.
He made headlines as a Florida State student when a woman, Erica Kinsman, accusing him of raping her in December 2012. Winston was not arrested and was not charged with a crime. In 2014, the university cleared him after a school panel ruled he did not violate the student conduct code for sexual misconduct. In December, Winston and the Kinsman agreed to drop civil lawsuits against each other.
CNN doesn’t normally identify the alleged victims of sexual assault. However, Kinsman revealed her name in a documentary about rape on college campuses.
After Winston won the Heisman Trophy in 2013, he and the Florida State Seminoles went on to win the BCS National Championship in early 2014. The Buccaneers made him the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.