I am a white, female sports journalist. I relate more with Jourdan Rodrigue, the Charlotte Observer reporter who found herself thrust into the national spotlight Wednesday, than I do with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the man who put her there.
I was disappointed as I watched video of Newton smirking at Rodrigue after she asked a question about the “physicality of the routes” of one of his receivers, to which Newton replied, laughing: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about ‘routes.“ Like many others, I tweeted the video with the word “terrible” above it and favorited the sentiments of colleagues, fans and NFL executives, who, in large droves, condemned Newton’s reactions.
The next day, tweets surfaced that Rodrigue had sent out in 2012-13, where she used the N-word and claimed to laugh at her father’s racist jokes while traveling. “He’s the best,” she replied in a tweet. “Racist jokes the whole way home.” Rodrigue apologized on Twitter after the tweets were made public, and I quote-tweeted: “He made sexist remarks, she made racist remarks. IMO: Rather than condemn, use it to open minds & further discussions about both topics.”
Hours later, an NFL player texted me, asking why I hadn’t given “equal treatment” on Twitter to the racist comments by Rodrigue and rebuked them as I had Cam’s comments.
“What do you mean?” I replied. “I said she made racist remarks.”
“No,” he explained. “You didn’t devote a stand-alone tweet to her remarks and say they were ‘terrible,’ as you had with Newton. You mentioned both Rodrigue and Newton in the same tweet and compared racism with sexism.
“Not the same,” he texted. “People die every day due to racism.”
He was right. I had, without thinking about it, crafted a tweet that protected Rodrigue more than it denounced racism.
First, let’s be clear: What Newton did was wrong. Rodrigue’s racist tweets do not, under any circumstances, cancel out his sexist remarks. I have had colleagues dismiss my contributions with a “what do you know?” attitude. I have seen players act disrespectfully toward women (most, for the record, act with respect).
But racism is wrong, too, and Rodrigue received nowhere near the backlash that Newton did. She was mostly seen as a victim in this situation. ProFootballTalk described her tweets as “offensive” rather than racist; the Washington Post ran a story late Thursday that didn’t mention her transgression until the final paragraph, when it devoted two sentences to her tweets, calling them “old” and saying Rodrigue “casually used the N-word” and “appeared to make light of racist humor.”
No, she definitely made light. She didn’t appear.
I watched Thursday as the justifications rolled in. “She was young.” “She grew up in NASCAR country.” “She made a mistake.” But isn’t Newton young? He’s 28; she was in her early 20s when she sent out those tweets. Did Newton have a bad day? Did he grow up in a sexist household? (Again, I’m not saying what he did was OK; just that the same justifications weren't made for him.)
Many news organizations did not call Rodrigue’s tweets racist; rather, they said her tweets had “racial undertones” or “could be seen as offensive.” Newton’s video apology, sent late Thursday night, was criticized while Rodrigue’s was generally accepted. Do we hold Newton, the NFL player who makes millions of dollars, to a different standard then Rodrigue, who is supposed to be a steward for her diverse community?
The point here is not to vilify Rodrigue. I don’t know her. I think it’s awesome that a 25-year-old female is on the Panthers beat for a major metropolitan newspaper. If we’re going to chastise her, let us all line up so we can be stoned too. That is not the point. That is not the goal.
The point is to ask ourselves if we can do better in this situation; if we can look inward to see if we are unknowingly invoking inequality with our words and actions. Are we quick to punish the male black quarterback and give the female white reporter a pass? Even subtly? If we do that in this situation, do we do it in so many others in our everyday lives? Can we watch our words, our hardwired responses, to see if we are treating people and situations fairly? Awareness is the goal here.
It is not enough to shrug off racism. It must be fought, and that starts inside every individual.
When Newton made his belittling remarks Wednesday, I thought to myself, “In 2017, had we not come this far?”
By Thursday, I wondered if we had come far enough.