What We Can Learn From the Cam Newton Debacle

In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap of the events that unfolded over the last week.

Star NFL quarterback Cam Newton was asked by a female reporter about one of his teammate’s improved route running, to which Cam laughed and chided, “it’s funny to hear a female talk about routes”. Not surprisingly, he received a lot of backlash for his comments and was accused of acting in a sexist manner. He was even dropped by one of his sponsors. The reporter took to Twitter to briefly express her disgust, and later in the week Cam issued an apology for his comments.

Here’s the twist though. The reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue, had someone later dig up some comments on her own Twitter account from several years ago in which she uses the n-word and talks about laughing at her “father’s racist jokes about Navajo land”, which she has since apologized for.

What has happened in the middle is a whole lot of back and forth between the public who aren’t sure who’s side they want to support. At first, Cam was the villain and Rodrigue was a feminist hero. But only days later, she was quickly being abandoned by those who had jumped on her bandwagon. As I have listened to various sports talk shows cover the situation, there’s a whole lot of confusion over exactly how we’re supposed to respond to this.

The first thing to say is an easy one: both comments are distasteful and downright inappropriate. Cam’s refusal to take a female reporter seriously was a classless and stupid demonstration of male chauvinism. Jourdan’s flippant racial comments were likewise a disdainful way to speak of other people groups. Both were wrong, and both people have since apologized. As I see it, we should try to move on.

But a different angle on the story, the one that intrigues me, is how people have handled the dirt dug up on the reporter. At first everyone was happy to stand behind her as a bastion of righteousness, but only a few days later she went from Cinderella girl to evil villain. And this is exactly the kind of thing we see happen in our culture over and over again. We raise up our heroes only to dethrone them later on. The very pedestal we use to prop our idols up on we are happy to kick out from under them the moment they no longer fit exactly into the squeaky-clean mould we had put them in.

We do the same thing in Christian circles too. The Christian sub-culture has favourite pastors, authors, bands, comedians, celebrities, and the like, which we champion and promote as shining examples to our kids. But then, when one of them shows their darker side, or begins to drift away from their faith roots, we feel shocked and almost personally betrayed by them.

This is the danger of making too much of any human being. We are all flawed, Christian or not. We all have the capacity for great evil within us, and it is bound to show sooner or later. Every person has a past filled with poor choices that could be drug out like skeletons from our closet for the purpose of public shaming. Seriously—for all those who are expressing outrage towards Cam and Jourdan, are you really acting as if there is nothing people could learn about you that would cause the mob to turn on you?

This is the result of secular humanism becoming the dominant worldview in our culture. If there is no God who demonstrates perfect righteousness, then we must look to ourselves and prop up those whom we esteem worthy of looking up to. But when these people fail us, which they inevitably will, we discard them and look for the next best person to champion our cause.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that people should take seriously their place as role models. We should be able to point to others as those worth emulating. But we ought to do so with the understanding that we are imperfect sinners, even the best of us. Rather than raise someone up as an idol to be worshipped, we should consider their noble character qualities and aspire to them ourselves. But there is not one person alive—save the man Jesus Christ—whom we can point to as the ultimate model to follow. Everyone else is doomed to fail, so let’s not put that burden on them in the first place.

Deep down, we all like to feel superior to others. We love to point out other people’s sin because it makes us feel like we are better than them. That’s why so much of our culture is dominated by public outrage over every little thing, along with public demands for apologies and the like. And to a degree, there is nothing wrong with calling out sin when it confronts us. But we ought to do so as people who are also sinners. There should be a measure of humility, not toxic self-righteousness. The Christian worldview can uniquely empower people to stand against sin and injustice while still keeping human pride in check. We are all in this boat of sin together. All of us need forgiveness, and we should be as quick to extend it as we are to receive it. That kind of attitude is better served to bring the kind of peace among people our world so desperately needs.

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