Dannon Ends Ad Deal With Panthers' Cam Newton After Sexist Comment

By Suzanne Vranica Features Dow Jones Newswires

Yogurt maker Dannon Co. said it is ending its sponsor agreement with Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton after he made a sexist comment to a female reporter.

Continue Reading Below

During a press conference Wednesday, Jourdan Rodrigue, a Panthers beat reporter for the Charlotte Observer, asked a question about the route-running of Panthers receiver Devin Funchess.

"It's funny to hear a female talk about routes," Mr. Newton said in response, smiling widely, before answering the question.

The comment set off a firestorm of debate on social media. Ms. Rodrigue tweeted: "I don't think it's 'funny' to be a female and talk about routes. I think it's my job."

Dannon, which has aired TV commercials for its Oikos line of Greek yogurt that starred Mr. Newton, said it was severing ties with the quarterback because of his remarks.

"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," Dannon said in a statement. "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."

Continue Reading Below

Mr. Newton's agent, Carlos Fleming of WME/IMG, disputed the statement that the quarterback's sponsorship relationship with the yogurt maker had ended.

"Dannon did not drop Cam. He is still under contract. They did not terminate him," Mr. Fleming said in an email, adding that the company is still paying Mr. Newton.

Dannon, which is the U.S. unit of France's Danone SA, wouldn't discuss the details of its agreement with Mr. Newton, which started in 2015, but said it was removing the ads that featured Mr. Newton.

In addition to drawing backlash on social media, Mr. Newton's remarks were also condemned by the NFL.

"The comments are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists who cover our league," the NFL said in a statement. "They do not reflect the thinking of the league."

PepsiCo Inc.'s Gatorade brand, which also has a sponsorship deal with the athlete, said Mr. Newton's "comments were objectionable and disrespectful to all women and they do not reflect the values of our brand. Gatorade fully supports women who compete in, report on, coach for, or play any role in sport -- on or off the field."

The company declined to say if its deal with the sports figure has changed.

Under Armour, which also works with Mr. Newton, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Madison Avenue is littered with endorsement deals that were terminated because of inappropriate or controversial behavior by athletes. Advertisers typically run for the hills when controversy erupts out of fear that a prominent sponsor's actions could tarnish their brand.

The most famous endorsement career bust occurred in 2009 when a slew of marketers dropped golfer Tiger Woods after allegation of his infidelities became public.

In another prominent example, last year U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte lost several endorsement deals after he falsely claimed that he and his teammates had been held up by armed robbers at a gas station during the Rio de Janeiro Games.

Write to Suzanne Vranica at suzanne.vranica@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 05, 2017 18:05 ET (22:05 GMT)