My thoughts on Cam Newton’s sexism

Column: Hester reflects on experiences as female sports journalist

Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton came under fire last week for comments made in a post-game interview.

“Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards,” said Jourdan Rodrigue, reporter for the Charlotte Observer. The quarterback listened, his demeanor changing from bored to perplexed as the reporter continued with her question. Cam smiled.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” he said, his voice almost laughing on the word ‘routes.’ The room was silent.

“It’s funny,” Newton smiled, a mixture of simultaneous impressed bewilderment and mockery on his face.

Newton’s aside was met with widespread disapproval from social media and members of the sports community. Personally, I do not think Newton meant his words as an insult. And that is the biggest problem.

Not knowing it is demeaning to laugh at an expert possessing an understanding of the intricacies of her field of expertise is bad. Thinking it is funny because she’s ‘a female’ is worse.

I am not Jourdan Rodrigue. I am the opposite. I am the unqualified stereotype the misogynists assume we all are. I did not grow up in sports, yet here I am, trying to make my way as a sports videographer and journalist.

It is foolish of me to assume gender plays no role in the way I am perceived. Men in this industry have a step up on me. I pretend they don’t. I would rather be better than bitter. I would rather prove them wrong on my own terms, but fail to realize that I may never be given that chance.

Being an ‘outsider’ comes with challenges. I made it through my first semester at the Trinitonian, emerging with a more complex knowledge and a t-shirt from volleyball coach Julie Jenkins, given as a warning and as a reminder that my ignorance of the role gender plays in sports is dangerous. My editor, Markham, too scared to let me cover real sports, assigned me mostly human interest stories, columns and pieces that didn’t require complex knowledge. I texted him around this time last year, asking to write about the World Series.

“Are you sure you know enough about baseball?”

Reading the words within the little blue bubble, my heart furiously pounded inside my chest. I was fully confident in my nascent abilities, but less confident that I could convey those abilities.

I didn’t text back “I played softball, you dolt,” but wanted to. I was outraged because he was wrong about me. I was outraged because he had reason to be.

My piece, “United States of the Chicago Cubs,” ran in the Trinitonian’s election issue and featured this statement:

“It would have made a lot more sense for my fellow sports reporter and actual, legit baseball player, Chris Garcia, to write about the World Series, but I wanted to write about this because I have a hunger to learn more. I also saw a story of collective and personal human emotion, which is the kind of sports story I hope to spend my life telling through film. Forget bullpens and batting averages, this is a historical moment with the power to momentarily unite a nation.”

And come baseball season, the strength of my reporting here at Trinity surprised Markham.

“Did you read something on how to cover baseball?” he said.

I was silent. I wanted to smile and smirk. I wanted to scream out of frustration that he ever doubted me, but at the same time wished to laugh in his face at his exploded expectations. I wanted to cry tears of relief mixed with tears of disdain, but instead I stood there, as if his words had no effect on me at all.

“No,” I said blankly. “I just know about baseball.”

This semester, I have an editor who has never assumed I do not understand. It is not drastic, but it is different. She even let me write about American football. She shouldn’t have. Looking at the recaps of the games, I saw a foreign language before me.

“In the game… uh… I don’t have it in front of me,”  I said, sitting down with a player. “But in the game you received….” I trailed off.

“Touchdown. Scored a touchdown,” said receiver Rhodes Legg quickly with a smile.

“Sorry,” I said meekly.

“You’re good,” said the receiver.

The fact that he was not a stranger to me made my inadequacy feel more disgraceful.

“I’m really good at soccer,” I said, my voice trembling as if on the verge of tears, while simultaneously holding back a laugh. Legg laughed, his kindness cutting like a knife, highlighting my shortcomings.

All the players I spoke to that week were so gracious. I won’t call them sexist. I am grateful for their patience, even if it maybe came from some deep-seated sexist expectations and patriarchy bullcrap whatever. I don’t care — they were nice.

Still, as I sat in the hot sun listening to Tommy Lavine gently explain the basic principles of the sport, something felt wrong. I nodded and smiled as the kind young player explained the game, but inside I was divided.

Kindness can be insulting, especially when you just want to be treated equally. Would you be this nice if I were someone else? Would you be so understanding if I was not a pretty young woman?

Behind smiles that convey confident cluelessness, there is a hidden fear. It’s a sinking dread that I am letting down my whole gender, a dread that I shouldn’t have to hold. When I’m fumbling through a football interview or failing on TigerTV to add to the discussion on the NBA draft, I want to scream.

I just happen to be a girl, but I am not all women. My throat clenches as if I can’t breath. I’m not some clueless girl who doesn’t belong in sports.

This is where I belong, even though it still feels foreign, but I am not sorry that I had a different background than you. This is my strength.

It’s kind of my shtick to not know things, but in truth I do know things. I know a lot of the things. I just don’t know all the same things as you.

My perspective is different, my view is from the outside looking in at this bizarre spectacle. I have a unique strength, a defiant sensitivity. My assumed innocence is my power.