Column: Yes, Cam Newton’s comments were sexist, and no, they’re not okay

In this Oct. 1, 2017, file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton speaks to the media following an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, in Foxborough, Mass. Dannon, the maker of Oikos yogurt, is cutting ties with spokesman Cam Newton following what the company perceives as “sexist” comments the Carolina quarterback made to a female reporter. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

On Oct. 4, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton responded with a smirk and a giggle when Jourdan Rodrigues, a female reporter from the Charlotte Observer, asked him a question about his receivers embracing the physicality of routes. Newton, in response, laughed “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

Rodrigue approached Newton after the briefing for clarity on the comment, and Newton allegedly didn’t apologize.

Let me start off with this: I’m fully aware of Rodrigues’ racist tweets from 2013, and there’s no excuse for what she said. I want to make it clear that in condemning Newton, I am not expressing my admiration for Rodrigue or letting her off the hook for what she tweeted four years ago. This is about what Newton said and how it came across, regardless of who he said it to.

In the realm of sports, it’s a fight to know the most. If you can’t name even the most absurd random fact, you must not be a real fan. It’s something that plagues sports as a whole, but affects women the most. I’ve been fortunate enough that nobody has ever quizzed me (at least not in a malicious way), but I do often feel the need to consistently emphasize my love of sports so people don’t label me as a “cleat chaser” or “puck bunny” or whatever degrading nickname is popular these days.

Yes, you can be a woman and not be offended by Newton’s comment. You can be someone who thinks this is just another thing for whiny liberals to complain about. But the comment wasn’t just about females in general. It’s about female sports reporters.

Until you have been a female walking around locker rooms, press conferences and media days surrounded by men, you cannot speak for Rodrigue. People, especially men, who interpret the comments as Newton joking, are the ones who get to decide when a female has the appropriate amount of sports knowledge. It transcends just being a woman who likes football—this is a woman being publicly belittled for doing her job.

Sure, maybe Newton doesn’t ever hear women in his life talk about routes. But what compelled him to say what he said? Rodrigues is a sports journalist, in a room with many other sports journalists, asking a question about sports. There is nothing else to this. She literally asked a question expected of someone in her position. That would have never happened if a man asked the question.

It’s different when you talk about a female sports fan versus a female sports journalist. Fans aren’t necessarily expected to be critical thinkers of their favorite team, whereas sports reporters have to be that way as part of their day-to-day life. Of course you’re more likely to run into males who will be talking about the intricacies of football as opposed to women, but we, as a society, have to get past the notion that because it’s not common, it deserves to be pointed out.

A man should not have to justify his love for fashion, clothes, makeup or anything else traditionally feminine, and a female should not have to justify her love for engineering, construction, sports or anything else traditionally masculine. We shouldn’t be responding to exceptions in the gender norm with “Wow, I’m surprised! That’s funny!” We should be encouraging people, not making them seem like their interests are some sort of strange anomaly.

Of course, some people take it as a compliment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Newton himself even said he meant the comment as a compliment. But more often than not, these comments are based more in sexism than in admiration and intrigue. It is Rodrigue’s job to cover a professional football team. If she didn’t know about football, how would she have gotten the job? And why did Newton have to laugh halfway through her question if he was complimenting her? His tone and demeanor was degrading.

We’re past the point where women need the approval of a man simply for having a passion, and we’re past the point where men should feel like because they are a man, they automatically know more about sports than a female simply on the basis of gender.

I’m not saying Rodrigue knows more about routes than Newton or even analyzes them to the same degree, but calling out Rodrigue as a “female” (which is degrading in its own right) and claiming it’s “funny” that she knows something about football, the sport she is paid to cover, it goes beyond a compliment; it reveals there is still sexism in the workplace that may not go away anytime soon.


Stephanie Sheehan is the managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.