Cam Newton debacle rehashes tired sexism vs racism debate

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Cam Newton has made headlines once again, but not for his stats on the field or for his fanciful fashion decisions.

Last week, the “we’re all the same color” Carolina Panther could not contain his amusement that Charlotte Observer beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue asked a question.

After Rodigue asked the 28-year-old about his receiver’s routes, Newton responded with a wide grin: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.” He then proceeded to somewhat answer her question.

Before delving into the larger issue with Newton’s statement, his use of the word “female” as a noun should also be noted. Is he referring to a female wildebeest? A female fire ant? A female ring-tailed lemur? If so, I too would have a good chuckle at these amazing creatures from the animal kingdom being knowledgeable about football, American football no less.

Alas, Newton was referring to female human, Rodrigue. Sports journalism is still largely a field dominated by men, but women have been covering the NFL since 1976, and Newton has been in the NFL for six years. Surely he has encountered a female reporter or two. It should not be the least bit surprising to him that a woman sports journalist is capable of doing her job.

Rodigue took to Twitter to vocalize her displeasure.

She tweeted: “I don’t think it’s ‘funny’ to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.”

Many on social media rallied around Rodrigue, but some people downplayed Newton’s comments and brushed off the incident as another example of the internet’s outrage machine going into overdrive. Actor and director Michael Rappaport went so far as to make a video offering a poor analogy about a pantyhose salesman to get his sad opinion across.

The Michael Rapaports of the world aside, the people wielding the purse strings felt Newton’s comments were over the line. The NFL released a statement calling his comments “just plain wrong and disrespectful,” and Newton lost a sponsorship deal with Dannon yogurt company Oiko.

Newton has since issued an almost two-minute long video apology via Twitter where he noted that what he said was “extremely unacceptable.”

All of this occurred within just 48 hours, but not before internet sleuths dug up a few racist, sketchy tweets Rodrigue sent in 2012 and 2013. She has since deleted the offending tweets, but not before they were screenshotted.

In the tweets, Rodrigue joked about her father making racist comments while traveling through a Native American community, and she re-tweeted a joke about Dale Earnhardt that used the n-word.

The 25-year-old once again took to Twitter, but this time to apologize for the racist tweets.

She wrote “I apologize for the offensive tweets from my Twitter account 4/5 years ago. There is no excuse for these tweets and the sentiment behind them. I am deeply sorry and apologize.”

Her employers at the Charlotte Observer also released a statement noting that they do not condone her posts and that they feel her apology is sincere.

Just as some people brushed off Newton’s sexist comments, others felt Rodrigue’s racist tweets were not a big deal. Fortunately, people like sports journalist Jemele Hill were on hand to set the record straight.

Newton’s sexism and Rodrigue’s racism do not cancel each other out. They both had moments when they showed an ugly side of themselves. Racism and sexism can and do co-exist. A debate about which one is worse or which one is more important is fruitless. Both isms are a cancer to society, and both should be noted and rightfully criticized when they appear. Women of color do not have the option of peeling off one identity for another or deciding on any given day whether gender or race will define us. There’s a reason the #listentoblackwomen hashtag exists. Go learn something today.

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.