In January of 2013, photos of Gucci Mane speaking to a class of students at Atlanta’s Crawford Long Middle School went viral.
Needless to say, the memes wrote themselves.
The endless jokes suggested that even Gucci’s most diehard fans clearly saw the potential issues with having the self-proclaimed Trap God lecture pre-teens on career day.
Please remember, this wasn’t the reformed, sober, engaged-to-be-married Gucci “clone” that shocked the world in 2016 after a transformative two-year prison bid. Within months of his January 2013 appearance at the middle school, Gucci was seen squaring up to fight hecklers at Atlanta’s Lenox Mall and unleashing epic tweet-tirades that would put our commander-in-chief’s precious little Twitter fingers to shame.
Despite the issues he was dealing with at the time, Guwop reportedly imparted appropriate and valuable wisdom on his students that day. Thanks in part to heavy vetting and close supervision from the school’s staff, the conversation steered clear of the controversial topics most associated with his music and focused on how the multi-platinum artist and CEO achieved his professional success.
In an interview with The Fader, the school’s guidance counselor, Tony Jones, stated that Guwop was “very good” with the kids. But he also made a point of explaining the extreme measures he and his colleagues took to keep the visit positive and productive.
“We allowed the scholars to drive the conversation by asking questions,” said Jones. “We had a specific list of questions to ask so nothing inappropriate was asked or he wouldn’t be able to spin things in a negative way. All the questions were reviewed before they were asked. It was a set of questions that were driven by the students, like, How did you get into the career? How much time, what kind of schooling does it take?”
The adults at Crawford Long clearly understood that Gucci’s fame did not magically bestow him with the tools to be an ideal role model for their students. Instead, they handled his appearance with the tact and intelligence we should expect from anyone who dedicates their life to molding the world’s young minds.
Sadly, the adults who invited Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to speak to a class of fourth graders at an elementary school this week weren’t operating with the same level of competence or accountability. It’s too early to blame Betsy DeVos for this failure of the American public school system, but it’s worth exploring how and why a group of professional educators thought it appropriate to have Jameis speak to a classroom of impressionable children off the cuff.
Everyone involved in making this call, from the NFL reps, to the school officials or to Winston’s handlers, left both Jameis and these students hanging out to dry. Why did they think it was a good idea to have this 23-year-old, whose leadership skills were specifically honed to inspire grown men to perform like modern gladiators, attempt to lead a class full of impressionable ten-year-olds?
Winston has already scrambled to apologize for the debacle, blaming “poor word choice.” But while the star QB clearly needs to re-examine his values and broaden his ideas of masculinity and femininity before he raises children of his own, he should not be the only adult shouldering the blame for this unfortunate episode.
Where were the administrators and teachers who invited him, prepped him and moderated his visit? Did they see his appearance as a mini-vacation from their jobs? The same way students see a substitute teacher wheeling in a television screen and immediately enter auto-pilot? Did they think the influence of Winston’s fame and natural charisma were powerful enough to absolve them of their responsibilities as caretakers for the day?
Winston claims he was just trying to regain the attention of a male student without singling the boy out and embarrassing him. The Tampa Bay Times‘ video of the incident supports his claim, but it hasn’t spread nearly as quickly as the written transcript of the incident.
The unfortunate messages about gender norms that underpinned Winston’s good intentions can’t be excused or over-looked. But without the context of that video, thousands read Winston’s well-meaning quotes as a deliberate attack on gender equality without pausing to consider the context of his comments or beliefs. His college coach is quoted profusely making equally problematic comments about his players and their upbringings.
Winston’s “poor word choice” apology is sincere, but it’s a deflection that’s easily disproven by reviewing the tape. Even if he replaced the most egregious word he chose to use, “silent,” with a milder one, like “shy,” or “bashful,” he would have still been dead wrong for reinforcing antiquated ideas about how men and women are supposed to behave.
A simple Google search of Winston’s hyper-publicized criminal allegations and behavioral issues could have shown anyone at the school of the mistake they were making. The most ironic thing about this whole controversy is that Jameis’ first big moment on the national stage foreshadowed it, almost word for word.
After leading the Florida State Seminoles to victory in the 2014 college football national championship game, Winston told a reporter that he had motivated his teammates with a call-and-response tactic similar to the one he reverted to when he noticed he was losing one of his elementary school students. Jameis’ infamous “we skrong” speech is still the stuff of social media legend. But his impulsive decision to fall back on it when he began struggling in the classroom is proof that great quarterbacks don’t necessarily make great role models.
If we’re being logical, those who’ve been exposed to the drug we know as fame should probably be the last ones trusted to be the models kids are encouraged to emulate. At this late stage of America’s Hollywood experiment, it should be clear that fame actually makes people act more like children than adults — and the effects are often permanent. So when will otherwise responsible adults stop expecting often-coddled, rarely-accountable celebrities to be role models for their precious youth?