CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Yogurt maker Dannon said Thursday that it’s splitting with Carolina Panthers quarterback over “sexist” comments he made Wednesday to a Charlotte Observer reporter. Gatorade, another one of Newton’s sponsors, condemned the quarterback’s response but did not drop him.
At a news conference Wednesday, Newton said “it’s funny to hear a female talk about (wide receiver) routes” in response to a question from Jourdan Rodrigue, an Observer reporter who covers the Panthers. Soon after, those remarks were widely condemned as being sexist.
Newton has starred in TV commercials for Dannon’s Oikos Greek yogurt brand since 2015, part of a stable of endorsement deals that have helped make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid players. But his comments Wednesday caused consternation for some of the companies that have aligned with his superstar image.
“We are shocked and disheartened at the behavior and comments of Cam Newton towards Jourdan Rodrigue, which we perceive as sexist and disparaging to all women,” Michael Neuwirth, Dannon’s senior director of external communications, said in a statement.
“It is entirely inconsistent with our commitment to fostering equality and inclusion in every workplace. It’s simply not OK to belittle anyone based on gender. We have shared our concerns with Cam and will no longer work with him.”
Carlos Fleming, Newton’s marketing agent, told the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that Dannon “has not terminated the agreement, nor do they have grounds to.” Fleming could not immediately be reached for comment by the Observer.
Dannon’s Neuwirth later added that the company’s agreement with Newton had not been terminated but said the yogurt maker would “no longer work with him” and was removing advertising with him in it.
Later in the day, Gatorade called Newton’s remarks “objectionable and disrespectful,” according to ESPN reporter Darren Rovell. The beverage maker did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s not unusual for sponsors to distance themselves from professional athletes over a controversial issue. Four sponsors, for instance, dropped former Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte after he tried to pass off a drunken incident as an armed robbery after the Rio Olympics in 2016.
According to a Forbes report last month, Newton was the NFL’s second-highest-paid player in 2017, making $23.7 million from the Panthers and $11 million from endorsements, appearances and other off-field sources. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, was the highest-paid player at $52.5 million, mostly due to a $50 million signing bonus in his new contract.
Beyond Dannon, Newton has endorsement deals with Under Armour and Beats by Dre. Neither could immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Newton also had a deal with Belk, the Charlotte retailer that carries his fashion line. A spokesman said the contract ended in January, and there are no plans to renew it.
“Cam was the top of our list, and we were thrilled that he was available and interested,” Neuwirth said at the time.
Newton at the time said Oikos was “right up my alley — not only because of its nutritional benefits, but because it tastes good, too.”