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Sports and politics haven’t played well together lately.
Then star quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers was roundly criticized for making a sexist comment toward a female reporter. Four days later, on Oct. 8, 2017, former offensive lineman John Moffitt rose to Newton’s defense -- and made a statement against women that went even further.
Moffitt, who was an All-American at the University of Wisconsin and played in the NFL, wrote that "women don’t know football," and that "they are incapable" of knowing it.
It came in a rambling Facebook post that said, in part:
Women don't know football- most guys barely do ….If women are so knowledgeable with a game they can't play let them do play by play or color commentary. but no, and women don't even see that it's not cam but the network that's sexist, or just can't lie about the truth. Women don't really know the game- they are incapable. Yet in this society where a women can do anything a man can do and men can do nothing this is a rock and a hard place. Personally, I thought it was funny too!
We’re leaving aside the Truth-O-Meter in this article. We don’t rate opinions, no matter how over the top they are.
As D’Arcy Maine wrote on the ESPN website ESPNW, "with all due respect to football players, the game isn't exactly rocket science. As women have done such things as, you know, run for president, command space shuttles, discover pulsars (look them up) and develop what's considered to be the first computer algorithm, I'm pretty sure we can figure out what a route is."
But we thought we’d add some important context to the discussion, by looking at the increasing role women are playing in the NFL and the makeup of the league’s fanbase.
Controversy ensued after Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue -- whose beat is the Carolina Panthers -- asked Newton at his weekly news conference about pass routes run by his fellow Panthers players. Newton smiled and said: "It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. Like, it’s funny."
Moffitt made national news in 2013 at age 27 when he quit the NFL, citing injuries, and forgoing about $1 million in salary. He had played in parts of three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. As a senior at Wisconsin in 2010, he was a first-team All-American.
Now let’s take a look at women and football.
The Pro Football Writers of America and the Association for Women in Sports Media told us they don’t have counts of how many NFL beat reporters are women. But Rodrigue isn’t the only woman whose job is to cover an NFL team. There are at least 10 others:
Nora Princiotti (Washington Redskins) at the Washington Times; Charean Williams (NFL) at Pro Football Talk; Paula Pasche (Detroit Lions) at LionsLowdown.com; Jenna Laine (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) at ESPN; Liz Clarke (Washington Redskins) at the Washington Post; Mary Kay Cabot (Cleveland Browns) at Cleveland.com; and Nicki Jhabvala (Denver Broncos) at the Denver Post.
Of course, there are many other female columnists and commentators who discuss the NFL among other sports topics.
NFL team positions
Women hold NFL positions that, like NFL beat jobs, would require considerable expertise in football:
Referee: Sarah Thomas, hired in 2015. Replay official: Terri Valenti, hired in 2017.
Assistant coach: 1
Katie Sowers, hired by San Francisco 49ers in 2017.
Coaching operations: 2
Women serve as director of coaching operations (Detroit Lions) and coordinator of head coach operations (Atlanta Falcons).
Arizona Cardinals’ college scouting coordinator; Falcons’ scouting coordinator; Jacksonville Jaguars’ coordinator of scouting administration; Minnesota Vikings’ college scouting manager.
The NFL is hugely popular on television. Through the first three weeks of the 2017 season, viewership was down 11 percent compared to 2016, according to Nielsen. Yet, even after the drop, average viewership was 15.65 million for national NFL telecasts.
Writing in Forbes a couple of weeks before Moffitt’s post, players agent Leigh Steinberg said the viewing audience for many NFL games is over 40 percent female. Similarly, the NFL says 46 percent of the league’s "fan base" are women.
Moffitt said that women are incapable of knowing the sport of football. His opinion was stated in response to an NFL star denigrating a woman whose job is to cover an NFL team.
While the NFL is male-dominated, women are NFL fans by the millions, there are NFL reporters who are women and -- in recent years -- women have broken into the ranks of key NFL positions such as referee, assistant coach and scout.
Moffitt is entitled to his opinion, or course. But that doesn’t mean it’s grounded in the facts.
Note: This article was updated with additional information and context on Oct. 11, 2017.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Ex-Badger Moffitt: 'Women don't know football,'" Oct. 8. 2017
Email, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, Oct. 9, 2017
ESPN.com, "Meet Sarah Thomas, NFL's first female official," April 17, 2015
Wichita Eagle, "Kansas woman who became 49ers assistant is the NFL’s first openly gay coach," Aug. 14, 2017
Email, Pro Football Writers of America treasurer Mike Sando, Oct. 9, 2017
Email, University of Central Florida DeVos Graduate and Undergraduate Sport Business Management Programs director and NFL researcher Keith Harrison, Oct. 10, 2017
NBC Sports, "Report: Sarah Thomas, NCAA’s first female official set to be NFL’s first female offical," Aug. 3, 2015
NFL Kickoff 2017, "Women’s Impact on NFL Keeps Growing"
Fox Sports, "FOX Sports Unveils Broadcast Teams for 2017 NFL Season," Aug. 15, 2017
Forbes, "NFL Rules TV Ratings, And Not Just In Sports," Sept. 21, 2017
Email, Association for Women in Sports Media board member Katie McInerney, Oct. 10, 2017
Associated Press, "NFL television ratings down 11 percent compared to 2016," Sept. 26, 2017
Reuters, "Women comprise nearly half of NFL audience, but more wanted," Feb. 4, 2017
NFL, "2017 NFL roster of officials," accessed Oct. 9, 2017