Sideline Panther reporter for failing newspaper’s ethos – The Philadelphia Tribune

Right below its mission statement, there is a quote from Charlotte Observer Publisher Ann Caulkins who says, “The mission remains the same as it has been for decades: to report clearly, truthfully, completely.”

The North Carolina newspaper takes pride in having earned five Pulitzer Prizes between 1968 and 2014 — two for public service reporting and three for editorial cartooning. It is a number exceeded by only seven papers. These are lofty standards, and for this the paper is entitled to take a bow.

However, in order to remain in alignment with these standards in the ever-changing world of journalism, and to not appear hypocritical, the Observer has no other choice than to fire Panthers beat writer Jourdan Rodrique.

Last week Rodrique, a 25-year-old white woman, joined Charlotte Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the national headlines for mistakes made by both, but mistakes that due to their respective stations in life will result in two dramatically different outcomes.

Newton, the one-time NFL MVP and the centerpiece player for an organization valued at more than $1.5 billion, was accused of sexism when he said it was “funny to hear a female talk about routes,” referring to paths run by intended receivers. The implication was that women in locker rooms don’t usually ask questions specific to the game.

The story caught fire, and Rodrique added fuel to it when she took to social media and painted Newton as insensitive and unapologetic in a face-to-face meeting. However, this began backfiring when it came to light that Rodrique had authored tweets in which she used that famous racial epithet that is widely recognized as the worst word of the 20th century, and that she had a rollicking good time during a car ride with her father, who cracked side-splitting racists jokes while the two rode through Navajo country.

Both people involved in the dispute have issued apologies: Rodrique in a 32-word tweet; Newton via a lengthy video that as of Monday yielded 4.2 million results in a Google search.

Newton comfortably returned to his job on Sunday, leading the Panthers to an impressive 27-24 road win at Detroit, and this Thursday he’ll try get the Panthers to 5-1 when the 4-1 Philadelphia Eagles visit North Carolina. For him, it is business as usual. There might be a smattering of boos on Thursday, but if he does what he is capable of doing and leads the Panthers to victory in front of an international TV audience and the 75,000-plus spectators who will pack the North Carolina stadium, the Panthers will maintain their position atop the NFC South and this will be yesterday’s news.

In fact, in a potential scenarios dripping in irony, it is this type of idolatrous fan worship that right now is the only thing that may possibly save Rodrique, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Charlotte is a city in which 33 percent of the population is Black. Rodrique is assigned to cover a football team in a league that is 70 percent Black. The most important figure she covers is Newton, one of the top Black quarterbacks in the NFL.

In deciding whether Rodrique can stay on the beat, the Observer has no choice but to consider whether someone with her views on can earn the trust of a locker room full of Black men. Having gone in and out of NBA locker rooms about 5,000 times in my career, and having had off-the-record conversations about race with Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson, I don’t believe she can.

And while this could have been a youthful indiscretion, something we are all guilty of at one time or another, the Observer cannot compromise on this if it intends to continue to meet the standards it has touted.

The same is true for her readers, who not only pay for the paper but read it online. Many of those Black readers will be turned off by her. Very few will look at her work and not at least consider the type of person that she has exhibited herself to be.

This is not about fair or unfair. This is about business. And unlike Newton, who is virtually irreplaceable, Rodrique is not.

The irony is that the one person who can ameliorate this anxious career moment for her is Newton. He is the leader of that football team, and if he were to forgive her, trust me, so too would that locker room. If Newton were to call Caulkins, who will certainly take his call, it could influence the paper to look beyond her warts. Otherwise, no, she can no longer do the job effectively with so many compromised sources.

Should he do it? I don’t know. I don’t know that she deserves it. I do know that a nation growing more divided daily along racial lines is starving for an act of racial conciliation that will never come from the White House. But barring Newton’s intervention, Rodrique has disqualified herself for that job at that newspaper. Their words, not mine.


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