Thursday, October 5, 2017

It's far easier to defend Cam Newton, the QB, than Cam Newton, the sexist

Picture this:

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is at a financial conference with 30 other well-to-do potential clients. During the Q&A session, he asks one of the experts on the panel: "I am interested a little in I-Bonds for safety, but won't I get a lot more growth if I stay primarily with equities?"

As Newton mentions "I-Bonds," the panelist starts to grin. It's not a friendly grin, but a smug, condescending smirk. The grin only grows as Cam goes on. Finally, when Cam is finished with his question, the expert, smiling broadly, responds:

"It's funny to hear a black guy talk about I-Bonds." 

He chuckles a little and repeats: "It's funny."

How would that fly in our racially charged climate? Not well. Not well at all. Nor should it - in any climate.

So I hope Newton is not surprised by the vitriol being directed his way after he condescendingly dismissed a legitimate question (about one of his receiver's route-running skills) asked at a press conference Wednesday by Jourdan Rodrigue, a reporter who for the last year has been covering the Panthers for the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” Newton said, laughing to himself and then repeating, “It’s funny.”

(For more about the encounter, as described by Observer columnist Scott Fowler, read THIS.)

(AP Photo)

Sorry, Cam, the question wasn't funny; it was good. And your reaction wasn't funny, it was sad.

Later, given the chance to apologize in private to Rodrigue, Cam declined. As Fowler wrote:

"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."

That's not an apology. That was as if our fictional financial expert, trying to save face, had said this after having insulted Newton:

"Maybe I shouldn't have said it was funny to hear a black guy talk about I-Bonds but rather it was funny to hear any dumb jock talk about them."


Part of me is very disappointed in Cam Newton. In many interviews I've heard, he has been insightful and thoughtful. He usually is pretty careful and measured when he talks. He has sincerely expressed interest in playing a role in sensitive conversations about race. He doesn't seem like "a bad guy."

So he should be better than this. At the very least - and I mean the VERY least - he should have been smart enough to keep his sexist thoughts to himself and just answer the football question.

If he had shown that minimum amount of class (even if it had been feigned class), he wouldn't be getting ripped today on ESPN, on talk radio and in newspapers across the country. Even the NFL quickly condemned Cam's boorish behavior.

Part of me, however, is glad he didn't keep his thoughts to himself. We need to know who the ignorant people and sexists are in society, just as we need to know who the racists are. That's why, when the president of the United States actually cozied up to white supremacists, it was, in a strange way, a good thing. It was the leader of the free world confirming that he's a racist, as many suspected him of being. It's important to know that.


On a personal note, I admit this does sting some.

For one thing, I have worked with dozens of outstanding female sports reporters - talented, intelligent journalists who are dedicated to their jobs of informing their readers, viewers and listeners. It seems outrageous that in 2017, we have to even have this conversation. I feel badly for them that there are athletes, coaches and others (including fans) who judge them purely on the basis of their gender.

For another thing, I have stood up for Cam repeatedly, and now I feel like I've been played a little.

Because of his on-field celebrations, his occasional mopey behavior, his perceived selfishness and, yes, his race, he has been a lightning rod for criticism since he entered the NFL in 2011. (Actually, he was a lightning rod before that due to some incidents during his whirlwind college career.)

I often felt he has been criticized more harshly because he's black. I mean, nobody seemed to mind celebrations by Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I encouraged Cam's detractors to look at his entire body of work: his mostly fine play for the Panthers, his work ethic, his support of teammates, his charitable acts, his obvious love of children, etc.

Now, unfortunately, his body of work includes his neanderthal attitude toward women.

If Newton's "people" are smart, they will have him publicly apologize to Rodrigue and promise to work on his shortcomings. Cam's apology would sound insincere, of course, but at least he would be on the record as having said he was sorry - and that he aims to improve himself as a human being. A donation to a shelter for homeless women would be a nice touch, too.


Hey, I am not naive. I covered big-money sports for three decades. I was in hundreds (maybe thousands) of locker rooms. So I witnessed all manner of crude, sometimes misogynistic behavior. That many athletes act like jerks toward or around women is hardly shocking.

Furthermore, when I'd go on the radio or have some other interaction with a large group of sports fans, one question I almost always would get was: "Is (insert player's name) a good guy?" I usually answered by saying something like:

"He seems to be, but I don't really know. Who knows what he does when he gets home? I don't know him, you don't know him, and he doesn't really want to get to know any of us too well. In the end, as good as he is at (insert sport here), he's just a human being, with the same kinds of flaws and frailties the rest of us have. Never forget that."

So I won't say this episode proves that Newton is a "bad guy." I don't know him well enough to know that. It doesn't make him any less charitable, any less good with kids, any less of a football player.

But one thing we do know now is that Cam is at best, ignorant; at worst, a sexist.


Having said all that, I realize that there might be a few people saying: "OK Mr. Women's Lib, what about your take-down of Erin Andrews back in 2008?"

OK, what about it?

By using her position as a high-profile ESPN reporter to flirt with athletes in the locker room while dressed as if she were heading to the beach - stuff witnessed by dozens of Cubs players and media members on that July 2008 day - Andrews, in her own way, insulted female reporters as much as Cam Newton did.

Many women in the industry actually thanked me for writing that column, because they wanted to be taken seriously as journalists, not sex objects.

And to Andrews' credit, I have not seen her act unprofessionally since then.

Obviously I'm biased, but what I wrote about Erin Andrews is not even remotely relatable to what Cam Newton said about Jourdan Rodrigue.


I moved to Charlotte in 2010, I have been a Panthers fan since, and I want "my" team to win. The only way the Panthers win big - as they did in 2015, when they went to the Super Bowl - is if Cam consistently plays as he did just a few days ago in the big victory at New England.

So as a fan, I'll still "root" for Cam Newton to play well. But I admit that I won't look at him in quite the same way I did only last week.

If I hear somebody make a racist remark about him (as I have in the past), I will still admonish the offending party. If somebody rips him for costing the Panthers a game when I feel other players or coaches were more responsible, I'll stick up for Cam there, too.

However, if somebody calls Cam a sexist - or even a jerk - it will be difficult, if not impossible, for me to leap to his defense.

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