Public figures like Newton need to be held to higher standards than this—and, really, abstaining from harassment of journalists while representing the team isn’t a high bar.
During a press conference Wednesday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton told a reporter it was “funny” to hear a “female” talk about routes. The only thing that’s funny about Newton’s comments is that they come from a man who is currently ranked 25th in the NFL’s quarterback ratings.
It should go without saying that Newton’s comments were inexcusable. But the fact that a quarterback in the NFL thinks it’s OK to openly make sexist comments illustrates the biases that women still face in sports and sports media.
After the news hit social media, reactions to Newton’s remarks settled into two predictable camps: for every person who was outraged by his sexism, there seemed to be another person who felt the reactions were overblown — or worse yet, that his remarks were on target.
I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that it’s unacceptable for a woman to be targeted at work because of her sex. That this is an obvious form of sexism should be indisputable. And yet it’s clear that there are many people who want women to stay out of sports entirely, or at least to be willing to accept whatever harassment is doled out with a smile on their face.
Jourdan Rodrigue, the reporter Newton harassed, shouldn’t have to justify her right to ask questions: That’s her job. She’s a sports reporter with the Charlotte Observer covering—you guessed it—the Carolina Panthers beat. The scope of her position is not just to write about sports but to write about football. That she knows a thing or two about routes should be expected.
But Rodrigue’s qualifications to ask questions about basic elements of football were called into question by Newton simply because she’s a woman. It’s apparent that Newton isn’t familiar with Rodrigue or her work, and he made it clear that what made her question so “funny” was her sex. In the video, he begins grinning as she asks the question, and he makes no attempt to hide his reaction as he answers.
Rodrigue shouldn’t be expected to put up with this type of harassment on the job, and Newton should be held accountable for his remarks by the Panthers and the NFL. His behavior sends a dangerous message to boys who worship football players as role models, and girls who absorb the message that they aren’t capable of talking about football — much less playing it.
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
No one expects the NFL to be a haven of progressive values. If I had $1 for every player accused of violence against women, I’d have a bundle. But the fact that the NFL fails to do its duty in other areas doesn’t mean we should shrug now. Public figures like Newton need to be held to higher standards than this—and, really, abstaining from harassment of journalists while representing the team isn’t a high bar.
Earlier this year, Becca Longo made history when she became the first girl to earn a football scholarship to a D-II or higher NCAA college football team. Longo is one of a growing number of girls who are joining their high school football teams. As overall football participation in high school has dropped, there’s only one group that’s continued to grow: girls. In 2016, there were an estimated 1,964 girls playing on their high school football teams.
My daughter was one of those girls. She was the first girl ever to play on her high school football team, and we worried that she’d be subjected to sexism and bullying like Longo. But instead, her coaches made sure she was treated respectfully and given opportunities to play like any other player. After today’s comments, I can only assume that Newton thinks my daughter and girls like her are jokes.
The joke’s on Newton, however. If the trend continues, soon enough there will be a whole lot more girls talking about routes—on and off the field.