By now, you've seen safety Antoine Winfield Jr.'s infamous peace sign he gave to Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill during Super Bowl LV. It was a heat-of-the-moment gesture as Winfield came up with a crucial pass breakup and wanted to playfully remind Hill of his actions the last time the two teams met in Week 12. Hill had, after backflipping into the end zone in front of Winfield, given him a peace sign, which had come to be one of Hill's signature celebrations.
The referee threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct at the time and the NFL subsequently fined Winfield $7,815 for the gesture. These kinds of fines aren't uncommon in the NFL due to the competitive nature of its players, but Winfield Jr. decided he would also match the amount to give to charity to further make amends. It was his way of turning the situation around.
"Since it got a lot of media attention, it was out there and I wanted to just spin it in a way to make it positive," said Winfield. "And what better way than to give back to the Youth Leadership program that I did all year? That was kind of how that kind of came about because I was thinking of different things I could do. I spent the whole year with the kids and talking to them and everything, so I feel like that was a good opportunity to go with those guys."
He's referring to the Buccaneers Youth Leadership Program, a first of-its-kind commitment to provide support to Tampa students, which was launched as part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Social Justice Initiative. A joint effort between Bucs players and staff, the program features players and 25 staff members serving as mentors for 25 students at Young Middle School, a Title 1 school in East Tampa. Winfield has had the same three students in his group for six total virtual meetings so far. It's given him the opportunity to get to know each child and create a lasting impact on them as the program continues throughout the school year.
"Being able to talk to the kids and learn more about what goes on in their lives and their perspectives of life itself was a cool experience because you really get more out of it learning from them than they learned from us," Winfield said. "It has just been great just to build those relationships with those kids and see where they're coming from and just guide them the best way possible and give them advice for pretty much anything. It always feels good to do that in the community and with the kids. They're the next generation so I thought it was awesome just being able to talk to those kids and give them advice and lead them in the right direction."
Winfield's $7,815 donation will be matched by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Social Justice Fund, for a total contribution of $15,630 going to the school.
"Our students have already benefited greatly from the Buccaneers Youth Leadership Program at Young Middle Magnet School," said Dr. Henrissa Berry, principal of Young Middle Magnet. "This is just another example of how this partnership teaches our learners important life lessons they will bring with them even outside the walls of the classroom."
Mentorship was something Winfield was prepared for going into the program – and something he knew the importance of. It was a responsibility he bore at a young age, becoming a leader for his younger brothers. That's also translated to the field, where Winfield has become a leader of the Buccaneers' dominating defense despite being in just his first season as a pro.
"Our district is deeply appreciative, not only for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but also Antoine Winfield, Jr. for this monetary donation that will make a strong impact at Young Middle Magnet," said Superintendent Addison Davis. "Taking an unfortunate situation and turning it into a positive one is the measure of a true champion, and a wonderful example for our students and entire community."
If you would like to support the program, please consider a donation, which you can make on the Hillsborough Education Foundation website. When making a donation, please put that your gift is for the Buccaneers Youth Leadership Program and Young Middle School in the notes section.