Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came under fire Wednesday for his response to a female reporter's question at a press conference. The Charlotte Observer's Jourdan Rodrigue first pointed out that wide receiver Devin Funchess appears "to really embrace the physicality of his routes." She then asked if his progress gives Newton "enjoyment." The 38-year-old former league MVP smiled and said, "It's funny to hear a female talk about 'routes.' It's funny."
Newton then answered Rodrigue's question, saying, "Fun has come along, man. This is a big game for him, because of him being from Detroit. I know he wants this win extremely bad." Praising Funchess' "growth," he called him a "completely different player" than he once was.
After the Q&A ended, Rodrigue shared her frustration in Newton's comments via Twitter. "I don't think it's 'funny' to be a female and talk about routes," she tweeted. "I think it's my job."
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
I spoke with him after and it was worse. I chose not to share, because I have an actual job to do today and one he will not keep me from.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 4, 2017
Amid backlash Wednesday night, team spokesman Steven Drummond said in a statement to the Associated Press (via NBC News) that Newton had a conversation with Rodrigue after the press conference ended, during which time the athlete "expressed regret" for his comments. Rodrigue denied that was true when she released a statement through The Observer via e-mail.
"I was dismayed by his response, which not only belittled me but countless other women before me and beside me who work in similar jobs. I sought Mr. Newton out as he left the locker room a few minutes later," Rodrigue e-mailed. "He did not apologize for his comments."
People offered Rodrigue their support via social media:
Every female sports reporter has encountered a neanderthal like Cam Newton over the course of her career. They go low. We go high.— Andrea Adelson (@aadelsonESPN) October 4, 2017
Ladies - do not feel forced into defending our sports knowledge. This is on Cam Newton - NOT ON US. Unacceptable in 2017 to go back to this— Laura Okmin (@LauraOkmin) October 4, 2017
In a statement, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Newton's 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." Drummond insisted the Panthers "strive as a department to make the environment for media comfortable for everyone covering the team."
Rodrigue's colleague, Scott Fowler, published an op-ed in The Observer Thursday to discuss the matter further and offer adttional details. "I was in that room, which held about 30 media members, and there was dead silence when Newton proclaimed 'it's funny'—because actually it wasn't funny at all. To state the obvious, this is 2017 and not 1967," he wrote. "All Rodrigue wanted to do on Wednesday was her job, and instead she found herself in the middle of a social media firestorm." According to Folwer, Rodrigue did speak to Newton after the press conference, during which time she asked him "if he really didn't think a female could understand routes." Fowler added that Newton suggested "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. Then he gestured toward the locker room, still filled with her colleagues." Rodrigue ended the talk "by asking Newton—whom she had introduced herself to on the first day of her employment with The Observer in October 2016—if he knew her name after she had covered the team almost every day for the past year. Newton said he did not."
Newton has yet to publicly address the controversy.