noun spokes·per·son \ ˈspōks-ˌpər-sᵊn \
Definition: a man or woman who speaks for or represents someone or something
In this blog post, no one gets out alive.
Earlier, Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton, aka Superman, stepped into ‘it’ during a live, post-game press conference-style interview with Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, when she asked the following football question:
“Cam, 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?”
In case you missed Newton’s response, here it is in full video so you can play it over and over and over again:
For the video-averse, Newton’s response to the question was to laugh and point out how funny it is for a female to “talk about routes.” For Rodrigue, the question wasn’t intended to produce laughs. It was asked in order to generate an answer that her readers would appreciate and which could support a unique story offering effective analysis of the Panthers’ offensive strategy. As a female reporter covering one of the NFL’s top franchises, the deck was already stacked against Rodrigue. Newton’s response likely felt to her like the world crumbling beneath one’s feet. No matter how deep Rodrigue’s knowledge of the game of football, men like Newton can only see her as a girl. Girl’s don’t play football!
Why does that matter? From a player’s perspective, it might seem odd or even uncomfortable for someone who hasn’t played football to express deep football knowledge. Maybe, from the player’s perspective, such a reporter’s knowledge base seems to lack authenticity and isn’t as trustworthy.Like, if you haven’t played football, how could you possibly understand what it’s like to ‘truck-stick’ somebody? On the other hand, it’s safe to assume that the Observer understands its business at least as well as the Panthers do, and would not risk its relationship with the team and its fans by giving the NFL beat to someone who hadn’t done her homework.
In fact, Rodrigue’s boss, Mike Persinger, who serves as the executive sports editor of The Charlotte Observer, has no issues or insecurities putting a female reporter on the NFL beat, especially Rodrigue. He voiced his support for her right after the exchange took place.
“The question Jourdan asked during the news conference was a good one, like countless other questions about football strategy and nuance she has asked in the course of doing her job.”
The NFL shamed Newton, as did the Pro Football Writers of American and his team’s management, and Twitter certainly skewered him. Dannon dropped Newton as a spokesperson immediately…and rightly so. The QB’s reaction to Rodrigue’s question was sexist, pure and simple. It was degrading, especially coming from one of the most powerful players in the league. And Cam, as a quarterback/hero/role model should have had the wherewithal to issue an immediate and very public apology, but he didn’t. It eventually happened, and it was issued in a surprisingly authentic manner. Newton might be forgiven (provided the Panthers continue to win).
Here’s the best part of his apology, a transcript all crisis PR people should take note of:
“I’m a father to two beautiful daughters, and at their age I try to instill in them that they can do and be anything that they want to be. During this whole process, I’ve already lost sponsors and countless fans, and I realize that the joke is really on me. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this. To the young people who see this, I hope that you learn something from this, as well. Don’t be like me. Be better than me.”
Another event transpired between the original sexist response and the sincere apology, however, that has thrown significant shade on the whole situation. According to a series of Tweets captured by the publication Black Sports Online, Rodrigue is a racist. Though the Tweets in question are four to five years old, they are quite damaging to her credibility and could affect her ability to do her job going forward. How can someone with racist views effectively cover a sport where 70 percent of the players are African-American? Here’s an example of one of the Tweets in question, which have since been deleted:
Seriously, how does this woman expect to generate any interviews and therefore unique content going forward? Though she deleted the Tweets and publicly apologized the damage is done. Her name in the Panthers’ locker room is likely as good as mud at this point. Perhaps Persinger should reassign Rodrigue to the politics beat where she might find a more forgiving crowd?
The point of this post is not simply to regurgitate old news for you. It is to serve as a reminder to all spokespeople, regardless of who or what you represent. Interviews can be nerve-wracking, or flattering and fun. It all depends upon your makeup. That being said, always remember one very important rule before, during and after any and all interviews – the mic is always hot!!