The disturbing part of Cam Newton’s response to an innocuous question from a female reporter took all of seven seconds.
Seven seconds during which the Panthers quarterback made the kind of sexist reference that has mostly disappeared from professional sports locker rooms in the past generation.
Seven seconds that included body language conveying the kind of arrogance and condescension toward a female sportswriter that we haven’t seen since the 1980s, when such boorish behavior was far more widespread and even accepted by an ill-informed and insensitive sports fraternity.
Seven seconds that eventually turned into an avalanche of criticism so powerful that it finally prompted Newton to do the right thing. He apologized.
Newton created this mess on Wednesday after Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer asked him about the pass routes being run by Panthers receiver Devin Funchess.
“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes . . . like . . . it’s funny,” he said.
There was no mistaking the sexist implications of his comment and the smug facial expression that went with it. He essentially was saying that, because Rodrigue is a woman, she somehow is not worthy enough to ask an intelligent question about the X’s and O’s of the sport.
Newton’s reaction was all the more stunning because it is rarely seen among today’s pro athletes, who deal with female sportswriters on a regular basis and whose interactions are almost always straightforward and businesslike. Female sportswriters have long been accepted as being just as capable as their male equivalents — and in many cases, even more qualified, in terms of intellect and talent — which made the comments so disheartening.
The negative reaction was immediate, and completely justified. There was simply no explaining away his choice of words. Or his arrogance.
Newton’s remarks were roundly condemned. Not only that, but one of his sponsors — Dannon Yogurt — ended its affiliation with him.
Another sponsor, PepsiCo, which owns Gatorade, called Newton’s remarks “objectionable and disrespectful to all women, and they do not reflect the values of our brand.”
Maybe it was the intense public relations fallout that prompted an athlete consumed with his image to relent and apologize in a video posted on his Twitter account Thursday night. Maybe it was the prospect of actually losing money as the result of his gratuitous remarks. Or maybe he finally realized he was wrong.
“If you’re a person who took offense to what I said, I sincerely apologize to you,” Newton said in the video apology.
He added that his reaction was “extremely unacceptable” and said he realized the joke’s on him. “To the young people who see this, I hope that you learn something from this as well,” he said. “Don’t be like me, be better than me.”
The one person Newton didn’t apologize to in the video: Rodrigue herself. He needs to tell her he’s sorry to her face, and that needs to happen ASAP.
Rodrigue herself now is dealing with fallout unrelated to the exchange with Newton. Tweets that she posted several years ago included racist remarks, for which she publicly apologized on Thursday. In a tweet from May 2013, Rodrigue wrote, “The earth moves at 450+ mph that’s 10 times triller than NASCAR Dale Earnhart’s a (expletive) (racial slur).”
In other tweets from August 2013, Rodrigue said she enjoyed listening to racist jokes from her father as they drove through Navajo country.
Those tweets were completely inappropriate, but that doesn’t absolve Newton for getting it so wrong. There was simply no way his poor judgment and hurtful remarks would do anything but lose big in the court of public opinion.
Admitting his responsibility was a good first step.