Barely minutes after 20-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston guided the Florida State Seminoles to the BCS college football national championship, a commentator stuck a microphone in front of him.
Within seconds, America cringed. Social media was abuzz with criticism and jokes about his broken English and challenged speaking ability.
But, more than any other segment of society, Winston made middle-class, educated black America the most uncomfortable because he looked and sounded like the stereotype that black America has tried to fend off in corporate America.
Comments on social media among African Americans were nonstop — some in jest, some horrible and others angry with Winston, Florida State, the education system and anyone who had a hand in his development.
It even drew a tweet, “Am I listening to English?” from Alabama star quarterback A.J. McCarron’s mother, Dee Dee. Some have called the Tweet racist. I disagree. I do believe, however, that it was mean-spirited and sour grapes because her son had lost the Heisman Trophy competition to Winston.
For that matter, I joined in the Winston-bashing, tweeting that I was happy for him but that he needed the fictional TV crisis manager Olivia Pope to rescue him.
I now regret my words. Who the hell was I to criticize a 20-year-old man because he was not well-polished and was lacking in his use of the English language? If he had been any other minority ethnic group or some good ‘ole country boy, I and most everyone else probably would have given him a pass.
When I was 21, I went on my first job interview at a local newspaper wearing a powder-blue leisure suit, a floral print shirt with an open collar, a white belt and a pair of dark brown platform shoes. My afro was well-shaped.
On the tough streets of south Baton Rouge where I grew up, my attire was “tight.” However, the editor at the interview probably didn’t know what to make of me. My writing showed some promise, and I could converse with him. But, Lord knows, my outfit probably scared the dickens out of him.
Later that day, my girlfriend was horrified that I had gone on an interview dressed in my homeboy hookup and said I was lucky to be granted a second interview.
She advised me to cut my hair a little (just enough so that I wouldn’t be surrendering to “The Man.”), wear a shirt, tie and jacket. The next interview lasted about 5 minutes before I had the job.
The difference for me was that someone taught me how to be prepared for what I had to face.
Winston was a great football and baseball player in high school. The thinking of many around him may have been that the combination of throwing, running, catching and hitting would make money from a professional contract fall like raindrops on him in the future.
But then came the interviews last Monday night. But most of us saw it coming after the horrible interviews he did last year after a district attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., determined there was not enough evidence to charge him with the sexual assault of a young woman.
His interviews were hard to deal with. I heard people, especially close friends, say afterward that Florida State shouldn’t allow him to do interviews until he had considerable interview skills training.
Some colleges won’t allow some or all of their freshmen football players to do interviews with the media. My guess is that those universities spend some of that time preparing those athletes to be able to converse with the media.
I suspect that in the offseason, “Famous Jameis” will be doing the same thing. And, maybe next year he will be a little better than he was Monday night. And, if he’s not, hopefully we’ll get over it.
Here’s a note to middle and high school coaches: Get your athletes into English and speech classes. You owe them that.
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.