Hi Mr. Winston,
You don't know me, which is fine. I'm a woman, a mother and a strong advocate for women's rights. As a life-long resident of the Tampa Bay area, I grew up in a household that revolved around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our family had season passes, I was at the celebration when we won the Super Bowl, Mike Alstott let me hold his coveted ring at a chance encounter at a bar once. For years, we happily handed our money over in exchange for the opportunity to watch our beloved players lose most of the time, but rejoiced in every win. I remember my first Bucs game in the 'Sombrero,' if you aren't aware was the catchy nickname of the stadium before a well-known local financial group took ownership.
As a child, I also remember the excitement I felt when players from my beloved team came to speak at my elementary school. I was in the 2nd grade and hundreds of happy youngsters gathered together in the media room awaiting their arrival. We were encouraged to ask questions and engage with the players. The local news channels set up cameras to capture and document the scene. To a kid like me, it was magical.
As the three players came in I studied their every move. I watched them shake hands with my principal as they wore suits and big smiles. They were the epitome of class and grace to the point of intimidation. Then they each spoke about hard-work, being a team-player and determination. My heart raced as the time came for them to take questions. There were so many in my little mind. “Why did they want to play for the Bucs?” “What's it like to play in front of thousands of people each week?” “How much money do they make?”(Give me a break...I was a kid). When one of the players finally opened up the floor to take questions, my little hand shot up in the air like a firework. The players chuckled at my enthusiasm. “Yes the young lady right there,” he said as he pointed in my direction. A flood of attention turned my way as a teacher ran over to me with a microphone. “What are the chances we make it to the playoffs next season?” (My brothers are so proud right now). In my innocence, I completely missed how much this put them on the spot. But they handled it well.
While I don't recall their answer, I do recall how validated they made me feel. I felt like even though I was a kid, I was part of the conversation. I had a seat at the table. More than anything else, I never felt 'out of place' asking a question about football while being a girl.
Mr. Winston, when it was announced that you were going to be our starting quarterback I'm not going to lie. I wasn't happy. Hearing about the alleged sexual assault, the theft of crab legs. Really, crab legs? There were many occasions I argued with family members about your presence on the team. I didn't trust you. I didn't want you representing my team. I boycotted your first season.
As one season followed another, you were still on the team. I hadn't heard anything negative about you, and as someone who believes in second chances, I gave you one. I started attending games again, and even rooting you on. A friend tried to get me to wear one of your jerseys at a game...that was pushing it. But I started to believe in you. You made me feel like people really could change.
Then I heard your remarks recently while visiting an elementary school. After telling the girls to sit down, and the boys to stand up you said this:
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. 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 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!
When I saw the report on the news, I immediately was reminded of my own experiences with Bucs players at my elementary school, which was much different. Then I thought about my own daughter. She will start elementary school in the fall. Like her mother, she watches football. She requests her daddy to put it on when flipping through channels. She learned to say 'touchdown' and throw her hands in the air like a ref, before she learned to play with dolls.
By saying what you said, you diminished her value. You quieted her voice. You took her seat away at the table. I'm not saying you meant to do this, or that your intentions were malicious. I don't know you well enough to say. But I do know words mean something. I do know that many children (boys AND girls) look up to you. If you don't make them feel validated and appreciated, it has an effect whether you recognize that or not.
There were girls sitting in that room that day. Girls who may not get told by fathers or men in their life that they are worthy. You could have been that person for them. You could have made a little girl feel valued like your predecessors did many years ago at a different school, but same county. You have that power! Whether you like it or not, being in the spotlight and this industry gives you that power. And you blew it.
You were given a second chance by myself, and many others who questioned your motives. You blew it. I don't know what the future holds for you, but I want you to know you've made some mama (and daddy) bears unhappy. You don't have kids yet, but if you ever have a daughter one day, how will you make her feel? Will you tell her to be silent and sit down? I hope not. Will you tell your son that he has more value than your daughter? Is that really how you see things? I hope not.
You owe an apology to those girls in that school. You owe an apology to the community of fans who have supported you through a tumultuous past. You owe it to yourself to educate yourself on the legacy of the players before you who did so much for their community. Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Mike Alstott. The great Tony Dungy. (I know a coach, but still a great role model). These are just a few of the heroes who have made Bucs Nation 'pewter proud.' Learn from them. Do your homework.
While my image of you is tarnished, more importantly I want young girls to have a positive self-image of themselves. It is my deepest hope that you will not only realize what you did was wrong, but that you will do something about it. Prove me wrong. Go back to that school and talk to those girls about being strong women. Give money to a woman's shelter. Donate your time to a worthy cause that empowers young girls and women.
You're in the red zone, Mr. Winston. It's up to you whether you turn this around to a victory or another defeat.
A concerned mom