The whole Cam Newton-Jourdan Rodrigue brouhaha raises one of the issues I – and probably you – struggle with most: Justice versus forgiveness.
Exacting justice is satisfying. Granting forgiveness is damn difficult.
Newton and Rodrigue both said regrettable things, and deserved criticism. Both apologized, and now, I believe, deserve forgiveness.
It started when Rodrigue, a Panthers beat writer for the Observer, on Wednesday asked the Panthers quarterback about receiver Devin Funchess’s route-running.
“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” Newton said. “It’s funny.”
The national backlash was immediate, and an apology from Newton was not. Some fans argued that Newton was actually complimenting Rodrigue for her knowledge of the game, but his facial expressions put the lie to that. It was a sexist comment, and it cost Newton a sponsorship from a yogurt-maker.
The story took a sudden turn, though, when 4- and 5-year-old tweets from when Rodrigue was in college were unearthed. She had retweeted a tweet that included a racial epithet, and she referred to her father making racist jokes. That sparked criticism, and she promptly apologized.
Newton followed up with his apology late Thursday. It did exactly what it needed to do – and what so-called apologies from celebrities so often don’t. It was authentic and sincere and didn’t go halfway.
He called his statement “extremely degrading and disrespectful to women” and “extremely unacceptable.” He added: “The fact that during this whole process I’ve already lost sponsors and countless fans, I realize that the joke is really on me.” He told young people: “Don’t be like me; be better than me.” To all journalists and women, he said, “I sincerely apologize.”
He did it all without notes. It’s true he did not name Rodrigue specifically, and he should have, but his message struck me as from the heart.
I was reminded of how difficult forgiveness can be when I went to a recent lecture at Davidson College given by Issac J. Bailey, who writes for the Observer editorial board and is teaching this fall. He told the story of brothers of his who had committed horrible crimes and were sentenced to long prison sentences.
Bailey, who grew up in a troubled home, said he easily could have been just like them, and yet he became a successful journalist, a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and a professor at Davidson. “If you see any good at all in me,” he said, “you should have space in your heart for redemption for my brothers.”
Bailey was not questioning his brothers’ guilt, was not minimizing the severity of their crimes and was not suggesting they didn’t deserve stout punishment. He was arguing that a person is more than his or her one worst act.
It’s an approach most notably taken recently by the families of the Emanuel 9, those people gunned down by Dylann Roof in a Charleston church in 2015. In an act incomprehensible to me, some relatives forgave Roof.
Such atrocities put Newton’s and Rodrigue’s offenses in perspective. But Twitter, Facebook and other social media make it easy to make a villain of anyone, often with important details ignored. I’m all about holding people accountable. But maybe we all need to leave a little more room for forgiveness as well.