The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark, writing for The Undefeated today, offered up the biggest lie in print this month (it’s early): “I am not inclined to give Jameis Winston the benefit of the doubt—especially when he is talking about the role of women in society.”
This is how Clark begins a column addressing comments Winston recently made to a group of elementary school students, in which he asked the boys in the classroom to stand up and express their ability to do anything they put their minds to while also instructing the girls in the class to be “silent, polite, gentle.”
Clark seems to have a tenuous grip on the definition of “benefit of the doubt,” because he goes on to offer an absurd explanation for why Winston’s comments were perceptive and well-intentioned rather than boneheaded and misogynistic. Clark posits that Winston was actually making a commentary about the academic achievement gap that’s widened between boys and girls over the last generation or so.
Get a load of this:
In study after study, article after article, we see evidence from preschool through professional schools that girls have been outpacing boys. This gender gap exists in many countries at every level of education and across racial, ethnic, and economic categories.
I believe that when Winston looked out at that group of students, he witnessed what so many of us have seen: a group of enthusiastic girls and some slacker boys. He was not trying to diss the girls. His invitation for them to sit down was a kind of compliment, not “sit down and be silent,” but more like, “Please sit down, girls, you are doing great. I need some time to focus on these boys. They need special attention.”
This is, uh, quite the stretch. It’s highly doubtful that Winston has read up on the intricacies of the achievement gap and was addressing that classroom with a head full of comparative statistics on the gender split. And even if he was, why not just reach out and ask him? The Undefeated and ESPN have actual reporters who could, you know, talk to Winston and ask him if he was in fact making those comments with the academic achievement gap in mind. Instead, they let this guy who doesn’t appear to have ever spoken to Winston in his entire life write things like, “But I think I know what he was trying to do. His intent was noble.”
And the thing is, Winston has been asked about his comments, and all he had to say was, “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.”
Ah, but maybe Clark was never really here to exculpate Winston with a half-baked theory. Maybe he was just looking for a place to pimp his own résumé (emphasis mine):
And they do. That is why the Poynter Institute in cooperation with the Tampa Bay Rays and other organizations created The Write Field, a literacy program for minority boys at the middle school level. That is why the city of St. Petersburg supports Men in the Making, a career and character-building program for minority youth, conducted with the help of African-American mentors, including officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Over five years, I helped create the curriculum for The Write Field, and spent a lot of time helping young men “find their voice.” This meant working with them, asking them questions, listening to them, reading with them, encouraging them to write down their thoughts and feelings. But that was never enough. They must learn to stand up on their feet and speak to what is on their minds, not whispering it, but projecting it, without a microphone, so that grandma and grandpa can hear it in the last row of the classroom or theater.
It’s only March, but there is a good chance this will go down as the most embarrassing thing to be published by an ESPN property in 2017.