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Cam Newton’s line of thinking needs to be rerouted

Women in sports have to know the ins and outs of what we cover. So we become experts

Jourdan Rodrigue asked Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton about wide receiver Devin Funchess embracing the physicality of routes and if he took enjoyment from Funchess using the truck-stick on would-be tacklers to gain extra yards.

The Charlotte Observer‘s Panthers beat reporter then had to sit through Newton’s condescending — and did I mention sexist? — answer.

“It’s funny to hear a female talking about routes,” he said as he drew his head back to produce a double chin, accompanied by a Cheshire cat smile. “It’s funny.”

Wednesday’s news conference was recorded, so we could view Newton’s comments in their entirety. Y’all want receipts? Well, we have them.

But even with video, a lot of men online contorted themselves more than Cirque du Soleil performers trying to defend Newton or explain his exact meaning.

It ranged from:

  • “He was joking,” although I wonder how you joke with someone who has been covering your team for a year and you don’t know her name, as the Observer reported after Rodrigue later talked to Newton.
  • “Well, he didn’t say women shouldn’t be talking about sports,” because suddenly we give out participation trophies for not going full-blown sexist while at work?
  • “If Cam asked a woman about fashion and she said, ‘It’s funny to hear a man talk about fashion,’ it wouldn’t be a big deal!” Well, first off, that also would be a sexist statement, because, ya know, sexism isn’t just limited to men. Second, it would be amusing to listen to Newton talk about fashion.
  • “How were his comments even sexist?!” Well, let’s imagine a black person walks up to a stock market broker and asks a question about the stock exchange, and the broker’s response is, “It’s funny to hear a black person talking about stocks.” That’s racist. Clearly. Now, replace the black person with a woman and the broker with a man and replay. That’s how it’s sexist.

Also, can those of you caping for Newton please not act like y’all aren’t triggered when a woman clearly works you like a 9-to-5 in a sports debate — in front of your friends? And then you want to double down and ask what women really know about sports. And don’t even get me started on the idea of women playing sports better than any man — we all saw what happened when Monica was about to score the game winner on Quincy in Love & Basketball.

Newton assumed that a woman who is getting paid to eat, sleep and breathe Panthers football wouldn’t have the slightest clue about routes. As if that isn’t a part of her job. As if women have not been providing nuanced and thought-provoking coverage of the league since before Newton was born.

What’s worse is when Rodrigue asked Newton after the news conference if he genuinely believed that she couldn’t discuss routes, his response was that she’s only paying attention to who’s open. She pointed out that he has no idea what her work ethic is as it relates to film review, and he then doubled down by saying he probably should’ve said “reporters” instead of “female.”

Newton thought his mistake was using the wrong adjective in place of a noun and not the fact he belittled a woman simply for doing her job.

Women in sports have to know the ins and outs of what we cover because otherwise we aren’t taken seriously. So we become experts. We pour hours into learning everything there is to know, and a lot of the athletes we cover genuinely respect that a reporter would go to that next level to ask a question that gets beyond surface-level talking points.

But besides the know-how, a woman in sports has to have support, not just from other women but from her male co-workers as well. I was giddy to see the number of male colleagues and other men online defending Rodrigue, calling out Newton’s comments and the comments of the Twitter trolls harassing her.

The Panthers released a statement regarding the incident and stated that Newton expressed regret to Rodrigue. Rodrigue said Newton did not apologize. Then the league released its statement:

“The comments are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists who cover our league,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “They do not reflect the thinking of the league.”

The next step is for players to call out what Newton did, and that truly would be something to see. It’s 2017, and Newton is cracking elementary school, gender-based jokes but doesn’t recognize what he did was wrong and deserving of a serious apology. What a time.


At 12:16 p.m. Thursday, Dannon, the yogurt company that sponsored Newton, announced it was breaking off its relationship with him. The company will no longer use Newton in its commercials, but will pay him through the end of his contract.

A few minutes later, Rodrigue posted an apology on Twitter for tweets from four or five years ago. Two involved her dad making racist jokes during a road trip, and she used the N-word in another.

At 8:58 p.m., Newton issued a video apology. He apologized to women in sports journalism, women as a whole, discussed how he’s raising his daughters to think they can do anything and challenged people seeing his video to be better than him.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s press conference, the dog whistle responses, coded disses and outright racist responses toward Newton came out in full force. There is no justification for that.

There also is no justification for Rodrigue’s tweets. They were wrong. They were racist and insensitive. Someone making a racist joke isn’t funny. It doesn’t excuse what happened at the press conference.

Newton’s comments were wrong. Rodrigue’s tweets were wrong. Two things can be wrong at one time. One doesn’t automatically cancel the other.

Liner Notes

Editor’s note: This was written before Cam Newton apologized on Thursday.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.