If Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers were looking to avoid any added distractions before Sunday’s showdown with the Detroit Lions (1 p.m., FOX), both parties failed badly at that task.
After defeating the New England Patriots in Foxborough this past Sunday with shades of the play that won him acclaim and the league’s MVP award two seasons ago, Newton has come under for fire laughing and making what some are calling “sexist remarks” towards Jourdan Rodrigue, one of two Panthers beat writer for the Charlotte Observer.
Speaking with local media on Wednesday afternoon, Newton was asked by Rodrigue about the play of wide receiver Devin Funchess, a third-year receiver from Michigan who caught seven balls for 70 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 33-30 win over the Patriots. Specifically, Rodrigue – an Arizona State graduate in her second year with the Observer– asked the following.
“I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well. Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him kind of truck sticking people out there?”
Grinning as he heard the word “routes,” Newton’s response is one that, according to other beat writers, left the room silent.
“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes like — it’s funny,” Newton said before answering the question.
As of late Wednesday night, Newton has yet to release a public apology for the incident – and, as Rodrigue explained in a statement to the Charlotte Observer, did not apologize to her. Rodrigue took to Twitter shortly after the video of Newton mocking her went viral.
Scott Fowler, Rodrigue’s partner on the Panthers beat, explained the situation in an article posted Wednesday night. Fowler writes that Rodrigue – who was introduced to the then-reigning MVP last October in her early days on the job – asked Newton after the incident if he was under the impression women were unable to understand how receiving routes work.
“Newton said she wasn’t really seeing specific routes when watching the game, she was just seeing if somebody was open,” Fowler wrote in a lengthy article that has been retweeted on Twitter nearly 1,000 times as of late Wednesday.
“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.”
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft and a three-time Pro Bowler, Newton is no stranger to controversies involving the media. After losing Super Bowl 50 to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, Newton infamously cut his press conference short after allowing three turnovers in a 24-10 loss.
What makes this incident different from the Super Bowl presser, however, is the sexism angle. Though some fans and ex-players have argued Newton’s comments are being taken out of context or that he was simply surprised a female reporter knew the game that well – former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White tweeted he laughed the first time he was in a similar situation – few are accepting the excuse.
Thirty years after New York Yankees reporter Suzyn Waldman was yelled at by Blue Jays outfielder George Bell in Toronto’s locker room, many are upset female reporters continue to be treated dismally by the athletes they’re tasked to cover – and by the fans of said teams. For every one Twitter account praising Rodrigue for how she handled the incident and the job she does, others are questioning her knowledge because “she never played” or “doesn’t have the experience.”
The Association for Women in Sports Media released a statement in response to Newton’s actions.
“AWSM is very discouraged by Cam Newton’s disrespectful remarks and actions directed to a female reporter during today’s Carolina Panthers press conference. As a watchdog group, AWSM demands fair treatment and positive workplace environments for women working in sports media.”
For their part, the NFL has reacted strongly to Newton’s comments with league spokesman Brian McCarthy telling Pro Football Talk‘s Mike Florio, “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.”
Other female reporters, such as The Buffalo News‘ Kimberly A. Martin, have been vocal with their support as well.
The Carolina Panthers are not Rodrigue’s first rodeo with football, as she previously covered Penn State for the Centre Daily Times from July 2015 to October 2016, per her Linkedin. Rodrigue also worked as an in-house correspondent at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, in 2015.
Newton, 28, has completed 65.2 percent of his passes this season for 882 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions. Prior to Sunday’s win over the Patriots, Newton had not thrown for at least three touchdowns in a game since totaling four in a 46-27 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on September 18, 2016. Rodrigue began on the Panthers beat less than a month later.
Neither Rodrigue nor the Charlotte Observer has announced if she will continue to work Sunday’s game in Detroit as planned.
[Featured Image by Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini]