I’m sorry, everyone. I don’t want to talk about this. I really don’t. If it was up to me, the phrase “women in sports” would never need to be uttered by anyone, anywhere, because female fans and reporters and athletes would receive the exact same treatment as anyone else.
But that’s not how it is. As women, we can’t ignore that fact because it is something that we are reminded of every single day. Often, it’s by people we can ignore easily — random trolls in our Twitter mentions, nameless commenters on our articles.
Then, on some terrible, awful, no-good, very bad days, it’s a star NFL quarterback smirking and cracking jokes about the supposed humor of hearing a woman talk about receiver routes.
It was a short, simple scene. As usual, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton stood at the podium for a daily press conference after practice. Jourdan Rodrigue, the Charlotte Observer Panthers beat reporter, asked a fairly straightforward question about the routes the team had been calling for wide receiver Devin Funchess.
Newton smirked as Rodrigue asked the question, then paused before responding.
“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” Newton laughed. Then he answered her question.
There are countless directions I could go from here, but first off, let’s just look at how unbelievably weird this comment is in context. Rodrigue has been the Panthers beat writer for a full year after coming onto the Observer staff last October. She’s not a new face, or a new voice, in press conferences.
And it’s not like there aren’t women reporting elsewhere in the NFL. Beth Mowins called Monday Night Football weeks ago, and Jemele Hill hosts one of the most popular ESPN shows. Heck, the sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman during Newton’s Heisman-winning season was, in fact, a woman. There is no way Newton got this far without having a “female” ask him an articulate, intelligent question about wide receiver routes.
So why today? Why now? Where did this random and rather embarrassing rash of sexism come from, and why did Newton let it slip in such a public format?
Who knows. Who cares.
Look, I’ve been a fan of Newton. I like his style, his dance moves and his physical style of play. I respect the difficulty of being a black quarterback in the blazing spotlight of the NFL, and I’ve always thought he comported himself with class, even through difficult personal and professional situations.
This comment was the opposite of classy. It was abrupt and dismissive and unnecessary. And it’s just part of a broader, more pervasive issue in sports as a whole.
A lot of people — mainly men — are trying to wave this whole thing off.
“Why is people making a fuss about cam and the woman reporter he laughed than answered her question but it was funny first time for me to,” tweeted Roddy White, a former wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons.
So let’s break this down. It’s sexist to laugh at a woman for talking about sports because you are suggesting that her gender has some inherent effect on her ability to enjoy and understand athletics. Therefore, what Newton did was sexist. There’s no argument there. No negotiation. No discussion.
And if there’s anyone who should know better than this, it’s Cam Newton. As a black quarterback, he has been questioned and ridiculed and targeted for years, probably since he first started playing back in Pop Warner. He knows what it feels like to be considered less than, to be considered not good enough to fulfill the duties of his dream job.
So why put someone else in the same position? Why demean another person who is attempting to do the job she’s been doing for the past year? There’s no reason for that — no excuse — and it’s not something an apology can fix overnight.
I can’t imagine how Rodrigue will feel when she walks back into work at the Panthers’ training facility tomorrow. I have no idea how many days or weeks or months it takes to gain back the confidence that Newton stole from her that day.
Being a woman in sports won’t be easy any time soon, but men must start actively choosing to make it less difficult. The NFL must fine Newton for his comments immediately. The Panthers must release an apology. Not a two-sentence quick hit, but something long and heartfelt and devoted to making a change. And Newton must acknowledge the full gravity of what he did, both to Rodrigue and every other woman who heard his words.
We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of minds to change. But today, Rodrigue will go back to work. So will I. So will every other female sports reporter in the country. And we will do that work until that joke isn’t funny to anyone anymore.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the hope of Mowins’ historic night on Monday Night Football. I wrote about the steps we are taking forward, the progress we are making, the promise that I see so soon in the future of every woman who loves sports. But Wednesday made me think that maybe all that hope, all that promise, is a lot further away than we expected.
Julia Poe is a junior studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, Poe’s Perspective, runs Thursdays.