Lesson learned from Newton ordeal

NFL quarterback Cam Newton got a wake-up call this past week after comments he made toward a female reporter during a news conference. Newton chuckled at the reporter’s question about his receivers’ routes, saying: “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

I’m sure many women reporters, myself included, have witnessed that kind of attitude from a coach or athlete, even if not so blatantly articulated. And maybe we should be thanking to him for putting that attitude out there, and sparking the conversation. It was so outrageous it’s hard to believe he really meant it.

In the hours that followed, Newton faced blowback that he could have never imagined, from becoming fodder for discussion on news and sports programs across the nation, to being dropped by one of his sponsors, Dannon Yogurt. Newton apologized, asking women in general for their forgiveness.

That apology, released on social media seemed genuine, and not just because it cost Newton sponsorship dollars. The 2015 NFL MVP recognized his responsibility as a role model, saying he “tries to use my platform to inspire others.” But more importantly, he acknowledged his responsibility within his own family:

“I’m a father of two beautiful daughters,” he said, “and at their age I try to instill in them that they can do and be whatever they want to be.”

We live in a time when more girls than ever before are playing sports, and starting at a younger age. Women today have literally grown up on athletic fields, with sports playing an important role in their lives, helping to shape a sense of self, of their place as part of a team, and qualities of character and leadership.

And more doors to careers fields in athletics have opened to women than ever before, media being just one of them: pro athletes, coaches, doctors, sports information professionals, groundskeepers, the list goes on and on.

Right here in our area, the athletic programs at both Penn State and Pitt are led by women.

Ironically, the same week that Newton made his unfortunate remarks, the WNBA was enjoying its largest championship-series viewership in years, and reporting a record-breaking social media impact, with 246 million impressions.

The NFL itself reports that 45 percent of its fans are women, and I suspect many of them understand the concept of receivers’ routes. The concept of women as sport journalists should not be anything new or novel, and in most places we are accepted and even celebrated.

In his videotaped apology, Newton acknowledged that the last week was a learning experience for him and had this message for the next generation:

“To the young people who see this I hope you learn a valuable lesson as well,” he said, “don’t be like me, be better than me.”

And for young girls dreaming of a career in athletics: be whatever you want to be.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.