More than 30 years ago, I sat in the Marquette men’s basketball locker room conducting a postgame interview with Tom Copa. The door opened and an ex-MU basketball player came in, looked at me and said, “Geez, they’ll let anyone in here these days, won’t they?”
I wish I would have turned and looked at him, standing there in his street clothes with no actual reason to be in a locker room, and said, “Clearly.”
But, I was 21-years old, shy and on deadline, so I said nothing to him, tried hard to tamp down the flush growing red on my cheeks and continued my interview.
I don’t think that incident had a direct impact on any of our three careers. The ex-player went on to law school, Tom Copa graduated from Marquette, played professional basketball and then built a successful business career, and I worked as a professional sportswriter until family life drew me away.
But, I think about that encounter still, and regret not responding directly to the man who had offended me.
While still in college, I also faced off with a genuinely offensive recruiter for a mid-sized newspaper chain.
“I would never hire someone who looks like you to write sports,” the man who interviewed me said. “I can’t send you into a locker room.” I reported him to the school, but I did not follow up because I felt, even back in 1986, that these were isolated incidents. By then, Jill Lieber, who lived near my hometown, already had been writing for Sports Illustrated for five years.
I talked to my father, a retired NFL player, about it and we agreed then that the sports world was ready female reporters. Obviously.
But, man oh man, do the speed bumps develop when the road to equality rolls through locker rooms.
On Wednesday of this week in 2017, Cam Newton said this, when asked a legitimate question at a press conference by a professional reporter:
“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes…it’s funny.”
It really shouldn’t be. Although I did think it was pretty hysterical when my sister Kathy could not take the blathering anymore from the random man sitting next to her at Lambeau in 2004, so she leaned over and explained the West Coast offense with a shotgun option.
What Cam Newton said, and the contemptuous way he said it, should offend you, as should much of the social media conversation that followed. Particularly galling to me were the tweets that defended his comments.
Ex Falcon receiver Roddy White tweeted, “Why is people making a fuss about cam and the woman reporter he laughed than answered her question but it was funny first time for me to.”
Karlie Edwards’ tweet “I see nothing wrong with Cam Newton’s comments. Guys say that to me when I talk sports & I’ve said same to a guy doing my make-up at Macy’s,” was retweeted 146 times and provides a classic and depressing example of how one genuinely sexist statement does not offset another.
Likewise, the reporter Jourdan Rodrigue’s racist tweets from 2013, are still offensive and fair game for discussion today, especially since Rodrigue makes her living with her words.
Both Cam Newton and Jourdan Rodrigue have apologized, and I respect that. I’d like to think their dustup has moved the conversation forward.
Frankly, I can’t believe we’re still having to explain the concept of mutual respect regarding sexism or racism in 2017, but we do.