On Wednesday, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was asked by Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue about wide receiver Devin Funchess embracing the physicality of the routes he was running this year.
Newton smiled and said, "It's funny to hear a female talk about routes." He then made another face, paused and repeated, "It's funny."
There wasn't much gray area with the implication: Because Rodrigue is a woman — or a "female," as Newton said — it was funny to Newton that she would ask such a question. As the video will tell you, it was far more than a "you never played the game" exchange. That was confirmed in a follow-up exchange between the two after the cameras stopped rolling, detailed from Rodrigue's perspective.
Newton issued an apology via a social media video on Thursday evening, calling what he said "extremely unacceptable."
I saw the chatter about his answer to her question Wednesday afternoon and was curious enough to see the video. It was ... yeah, it was not good. So I tweeted about it: "Brutal, sexist answer from Cam Newton in response to good question from female reporter. And the body language was just as bad."
It spread, as tweets sometimes do, picking up steam and gathering replies. The whole thing kept me thinking about the subject and the responses for far longer than 140 characters could do it justice, so here is a longer thought:
There are people who don't like Cam Newton already for a variety of complicated reasons. Some of them are racist and have a problem with any black quarterback. Some think he's too demonstrative on the field, which could be coded language for racism. Some didn't like the way he acted after the Panthers lost the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.
As a consequence, those who love Newton are quick to defend him because he's dealt with a lot of unnecessary hate. And those who didn't like Newton already for whatever reason had more fuel for their fire when this happened.
So this story becomes weird and complicated, with people piling on and pushing back from all sorts of weird angles.
Let's just try this: The same ignorance that leads plenty of people to question or judge Newton because of his race was redistributed by Newton onto Rodrigue in the form of sexism. People question whether a black quarterback can succeed based on race. Newton made a judgment based on sex. Those aren't the same exact things or experiences, of course, but they have similar roots in ignorance.
As a white male in the United States, I don't know what it's like to be marginalized in either of those ways. That doesn't mean I shouldn't call it out when I think I see it. It does mean that I should try to understand it in the context of something other than my own white male privilege — to think, "What would it feel like to have this happen, to have my professional credentials questioned and called out based solely on being a man or being white?"
Otherwise you end up asking, "What's the big deal?" or agreeing with Newton that it was funny to hear a woman ask a question about wide receiver routes.