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NFL star Cam Newton loses sponsor over sexist comment

Daniel Roberts

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.”

That’s what Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said, complete with a condescending laugh, in response to an NFL beat reporter’s question at a press conference on Wednesday.

Fans were outraged, and now Newton has already lost a personal endorsement deal with Oikos Yogurt, a Dannon brand.

The star, who led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50 in 2015, also has deals with Under Armour, Gatorade (PepsiCo-owned), Beats By Dre (Apple-owned), Microsoft, Carolinas HealthCare System, and salon brand Great Clips.

Cam Newton making his sexist remark at a Panthers press conference.
Cam Newton making his sexist remark at a Panthers press conference.

Dannon drops Newton

Dannon, an official NFL sponsor and the maker of Oikos, was first to go.

In a statement to the press, spokesperson Michael Neuwirth said, “We are shocked and disheartened at the behavior and comments of Cam Newton towards Jourdan Rodrigue, which we perceive as sexist and disparaging to all women. It is entirely inconsistent with our commitment to fostering equality and inclusion in every workplace. It’s simply not ok to belittle anyone based on gender. We have shared our concerns with Cam and will no longer work with him.”

It’s worth mentioning that, according to ESPN’s Ian Rapoport, IMG agent Carlos Fleming, who reps Newton on the marketing side, says Dannon, “has not terminated the agreement, nor do they have grounds to.” On the other hand, Oikos Yogurt has already yanked Newton ads from its official YouTube page.

There’s an obvious added level of intrigue here because of the time in which this is happening: official NFL sponsors, of which Dannon is one, are watching closely the controversy over players protesting during the anthem, and a select few have issued statements on the situation.

For Dannon, dropping Newton is an easy PR win; it’s uncontroversial to condemn sexism, and almost guaranteed to earn kudos from consumers. Meanwhile, the company avoids commenting on the larger ongoing negative NFL story and its stance as a league sponsor.

Gatorade: “Cam’s comments were objectionable and disrespectful”

On Thursday afternoon, Gatorade followed Oikos with a statement, but it did not say it will stop endorsing Newton. Gatorade spokesperson Ashley Lang sent this statement:

“Cam’s comments were objectionable and disrespectful to all women and they do not reflect the values of our brand. Gatorade fully supports women who compete in, report on, coach for, or play any role in sport—on or off the field.”

Newton hurt his image

It may be obvious to say, but Newton’s comment was foolish and damaging to his popularity in the sport. In an NFL.com reader poll earlier this year, Cam Newton tied for the No. 1 most liked player. He has now put his likability at risk.

For starters, the NFL says 45% of its fans are women. Of course, it isn’t only female fans who would be offended by Newton’s comment (and it’s also not true that all female fans would be offended). At the very least, Newton alienated a large chunk of football fans.

And the reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, has been covering the team full time for a year; she certainly knows about routes.

But Newton’s reaction was also puzzling because of the moment in which it happened. The Panthers just beat the New England Patriots last Sunday in an upset; Newton played well; and the question from Rodrigue was a positive one asking for Newton’s thoughts on receiver Devin Funchess, who “seemed to really embraced the physicality of his routes,” Rodrigue said. The question was a free chance for Newton to praise his teammate.

Why did Newton respond by belittling the reporter? There was no reason for it.

On Wednesday, Panthers spokesperson Steven Drummond told the Observer, “I know they had a conversation where [Newton] expressed regret for using those words.” But according to the Observer, Rodrigue spoke to Newton one-on-one after the press conference and he did not apologize. Instead, he appeared to double down: “Newton said she wasn’t really seeing specific routes when watching the game, she was just seeing if somebody was open. She argued that he didn’t know what she saw nor how hard she had studied football.”

On Thursday night, Newton did post an apology video on Twitter. “What I did was extremely unacceptable,” he said. He also addressed the loss of sponsors, saying: “I’ve already lost sponsors and countless fans, and I realize, the joke’s on me.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. Sportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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