Just because the First Amendment protects speech doesn’t mean you should spout off without care. Particularly when you are a public figure. Recent gaffes have publicists working overtime on apologies, as it seems those in sports continue not to know when to press pause.
Newton’s Ironic Take
NFL free-agent quarterback Cam Newton appeared on the “Million Dollaz Worth of Game" podcast Monday (April 11). During his appearance, Newton uttered ironic critiques about women. The one-time MVP complained about women who can’t cook and seem to talk too much.
"Now a woman, for me, is handling your own but knowing how to cater to a man's needs. Right?'' Newton said during the podcast. "And I think a lot of times when you get that aesthetic of like, 'I'm a boss b----, I'm this, I'm that.' No, baby! But you can't cook. You don't know when to be quiet. You don't know how to allow a man to lead."
It’s not the first time Newton spewed sexist views. In 2017, he noted how "funny'' it was to hear a female sports reporter ask an in-depth football question.
Newton's video apology soon followed, but the incident cost him an endorsement.
On-Field Antics Provoke Conversation
Over in Major League Baseball, one coach is accusing another of hurling a racist expletive during a game. San Francisco Giants' coach Antoan Richardson, who is Black, accused San Diego Padres' coach Mike Shildt of yelling an expletive at him yesterday (April 12) that "reeked undertones of racism."
An ESPN report said after a brief verbal tussle between the two, Richardson said Shildt, who is white, yelled, "You need to control that motherf---er" to the Giants' dugout. Richardson protested and umpires ejected him from the game.
"...His words were disproportionately unwarranted and reeked undertones of racism when he referred to me as 'that motherf---er,' as if I was to be controlled or a piece of property or enslaved,” Richardson said after the game.
The Apologies Should Come Next But…
Eric Yaverbaum, CEO of Ericho Communications, says Newton's and Shildt's actions "unequivocally" warrant apologies. However, it should not be that simple.
“Apologies are only apologies if they are genuine,” Yaverbaum says. “This means really opening yourself up to the possibility that you were wrong." In addition, try to understand how you would feel if you "were on the receiving end of these comments, especially given the history and meaning behind comments like these.”
Yaverbaum says the first step before apologizing is to listen to those you’ve offended. Some, like Newton, may have to search their soul before coming to a conclusion.
“The fact that Newton feels comfortable expressing such antiquated and misogynistic views about women leads me to believe he has a lot of work to do on himself before he can truly understand why he's in the wrong and begin the process of making things right,” Yaverbaum says. “Shildt [also] needs to really listen and take what Richardson is saying to heart.”
Drafting the Apology
Yaverbaum says once a person understands the pain they caused, communicators can work with them to draft a sincere apology. And make sure the apology avoids selfish talk at all costs. Action is also important.
“When writing the apology, speak from the heart, but don't focus on yourself or the repercussions you've faced as a result,” he says. “Instead, focus on acknowledging the harm caused and how you're going to make things right.”
While a person may feel an impulse to dismiss or justify their words or actions, it's the wrong move PR-wise. Defending yourself is never the answer and will only make things worse, Yaverbaum adds.
“This is why the process of soul searching and really listening with empathy to those you’ve harmed is so important—when you’ve really listened, heard what they have to say, and have experienced the situation through their eyes, it will be very clear whether an apology is due.”
Is Redemption Possible?
For a repeat offender like Newton, the reputation damage he's absorbed will take time to repair. However, everyone makes mistakes. The important part, Yaverbaum says, is showing you’ve learned and grown.
“Mistakes don’t have to define us or our lives, but we have to own them and do our best to learn from them so that we don’t repeat them.”
[Update, April 14, 2022: Prior to yesterday's game, Richardson and Shildt met and ironed out their differences, according to reports.]
Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal