Insulting a reporter is never a good idea, even if you’re a major player in the National Football League.
When asked about the routes that his wide receiver teammate runs during a press conference, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton laughed and said, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”
Here’s video of Newton’s exchange with Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue:
Newton was widely criticized for his comments, which came off as insensitive and sexist to many, including Observer reporter Scott Fowler.
Here’s how Rodrigue responded on Twitter:
I don’t think it’s “funny” to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 4, 2017
In his column, Fowler details a follow-up exchange that Rodrigue had with Newton after the press conference:
She asked the quarterback if he really didn’t think a female could understand routes.
Newton said she wasn’t really seeing specific routes when watching the game, she was just seeing if somebody was open. She argued that he didn’t know what she saw nor how hard she had studied football, and that maybe the two of them needed to have a deeper conversation.
Newton said that maybe he should have said it was funny to hear “reporters” talk about routes and that, if she actually did know about them, then she knew more than most reporters. Then he gestured toward the locker room, still filled with her colleagues.
Rodrigue ended by asking Newton – whom she had introduced herself to on the first day of her employment with The Observer in October 2016 – if he knew her name after she had covered the team almost every day for the past year.
Newton said he did not.
“Jourdan Rodrigue, Charlotte Observer,” she said, and then walked away.
Rodrigue told Fowler of Newton’s original comment:
“I was dismayed by his response, which not only belittled me but countless other women before me and beside me who work in similar jobs. I sought Mr. Newton out as he left the locker room a few minutes later. He did not apologize for his comments.”
Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond issued the following statement:
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 4, 2017
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy also issued a following statement on the league’s behalf:
The comments are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists who cover our league. They do not reflect the thinking of the league.
For communicators, apologies are an unwelcome but necessary part of the job. It’s an opportunity to right a wrong, set the record straight and set a tone for moving forward.
Communicators that work with public figures should be versed in how to respond in these cases—especially when the person who took the initial action that required a mea culpa won’t come out and apologize. That’s the case here, with Newton refusing to comment following his remarks.
Say what you want about the current state of the NFL, but the league did the right thing in distancing itself from the comments—and so did the Panthers.
I have no doubt the team’s leaders encouraged Newton to apologize and go beyond “expressing regret.” If he did, the story would be over. That he hasn’t means that it will linger and possibly cost him a future yogurt or other endorsement deal. Then again, in sports, victories have a way of making everyone forget past missteps.
UPDATE: On Thursday, Newton apologized through a video he tweeted:
— Cameron Newton (@CameronNewton) October 6, 2017
In the video, Newton said:
The fact that during this whole process I’ve already lost sponsors and countless fans, I realize that the joke is really on me. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this.
The apology came roughly nine hours after Dannon severed ties with the quarterback.
“We are shocked and disheartened at the behavior and comments of Cam Newton towards Jourdan Rodrigue, which we perceive as sexist and disparaging to all women. It is entirely inconsistent with our commitment to fostering equality and inclusion in every workplace. It’s simply not OK to belittle anyone based on gender. We have shared our concerns with Cam and will no longer work with him,” according to a statement from Michael Neuwirth, senior director of external communications for Dannon.
Dannon renewed its deal with Newton after his MVP season and will have trouble getting out of paying the balance of the contract, but it will no longer use him for its marketing. The deal was worth roughly $1 million annually, according to sources.
Forbes reported that Newton is “one of the NFL’s highest-paid players off the field” and earns an estimated $11 million yearly with licensing, endorsement contracts, appearances and royalties.
Though several current sponsors, including Under Armour and Beats by Dre, have remained silent in the wake of backlash, Gatorade issued the following statement condemning Newton’s comments:
Gatorade issues statement on endorser Cam Newton: pic.twitter.com/OW8RqBrjfV
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 5, 2017
Newton wasn’t the only person to apologize on Thursday.
As has become commonplace during recent controversies, the situation resulted in people digging deep into Rodrigue’s Twitter history, finding a pair of posts from 2012 that referenced her father making racist jokes. Others have pointed out that in 2013 she shared with her followers someone else’s tweet that used a racist term. Rodrigue was a student at Arizona State at the time.
The revelations resulted in Rodrigue issuing an apology of her own. She issued a statement through The Observer that said “There is no excuse for these tweets, and the sentiment behind them. I am deeply sorry.”
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 5, 2017
Observer Editor Sherry Chisenhall said, “The Twitter posts are regrettable and we wish they hadn’t happened. We don’t condone the posts or the messages they convey. We believe Jourdan is deeply sincere in her apology and regret about those tweets.”