Jameis Winston and Football's Masculinity Machine
How many second chances is a Heisman winner worth?
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson for shouting “offensive and vulgar” comments while standing on a table in the student union. The NSFW comments referenced an Internet meme and were of an aggressive, sexual nature.
While many fellow students and members of the sports media are understandably weary of yet another demonstration of Winston’s lack of maturity, others are dismissing the comments under the guise of free speech and the predictable foolishness of a college student. Mike Greenberg of ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" dismissed the incident as Winston acting "like the 20-year-old kid he is," while a female FSU student told USA Today, “Jameis is unfairly viewed under a microscope and scrutinized for every mistake he makes. We often forget that he is a college student and he is learning who he is as a person.”
Forgetting that this isn’t just any college student, that this is the face of his school who stands to make millions when he enters the pros, his defenders also need to consider that this is just the latest in a pattern of Winston’s erratic behavior. There was the bizarre crab-leg shoplifting incident back in May that resulted in Winston’s suspension from the FSU baseball team. After that, football head coach Jimbo Fisher told Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman that he believed Winston had learned his lesson and would make more adult decisions going forward, a rather optimistic assessment.
Of course, the most infamous blemish on Winston's record is the alleged rape of a 19-year-old FSU student, for which no charges were brought after an impressively botched investigation. Now the subject of a federal Title IX investigation, you’d think Winston would try harder to avoid making belligerent statements degrading to women, at least in public.
But Winston has no motivation to grow up, at least on his current path toward being the top pick in next year’s draft. (It would be a pathetic statement on college football if the only thing that causes Winston to change his ways is the tut-tutting of the professional draft prognosticators.) And it definitely doesn’t help that people continue to make excuses for him, giving him a pass for exhibiting the poor judgment of a 20-year-old. That’s just a thinly veiled version of the “boys will be boys” trope, a reductionist credo used to excuse senseless, often violent behavior as part of men’s nature.
As college football Hall of Famer and feminist advocate Don McPherson repeatedly notes, this narrow definition of masculinity is as damaging to women as it is to the men to which it’s ascribed. It’s also particularly prevalent in football, where the frat-boy, locker-room culture that resulted in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal was explained away as the consequence of everyday male interaction. It’s also at least partly to blame for the NFL's crises on domestic violence and child abuse, both phenomena of unchecked aggression stemming from a limited view of what it means to exert male authority.
As long as we keep promoting the notion that boys will be boys, men such as Jameis Winston will continue to enter the adult world with the same juvenile sense of male entitlement they exhibit in college. For all the talk of football’s culture crisis, it’s actually part of a broader dyanamic involving gender constructs that starts well before adulthood, college, or even high school. After serving his first-half suspension, Winston will return to business as usual -- as someone whose lack of judgment and maturity are excused because he throws a tight spiral.
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