Newton Smear Campaign?

Cam Newton addresses some of the allegations against him, In yesterday's press conference.

In what to some appears to be an orchestrated character assassination targeted at Auburn super junior and clear Heisman front runner Cameron Newton, a series of articles have appeared in recent days attempting to tie him and/or his family to recruiting improprieties and accuse him of running afoul of academic ethics rules while enrolled at Florida.

Forget for the moment that these articles contain little real fact and rely instead on sensationalism and multiple leaps of illogical logic. Ignore for the moment that the articles in question make broad assumptions that cannot be supported. Pay no mind to the fact that the second set of articles presents a clear violation of FERPA rules and student privacy.

Let’s assume for the moment Cam Newton did cheat on tests at Florida. We know he was arrested for purchasing a stolen laptop, that much is on the record.  He’s hardly the first player under Urban Meyer to get in trouble at Florida.  He is one of a rather large group. Check the Gainesville police blotter. As of June 2010, there had been at least 28 players arrested on Meyer’s watch.

Whether for academic issues or because of the stigma of the laptop incident or because Cam didn’t want to sit for another year behind Florida wunderkind Tim Tebow, the current quarterback at Auburn left the Florida team. His departure was without the fanfare and glory that his arrival on campus had generated. When he left Gainesville, Newton was just another potentially brilliant talent who was on the verge of squandering the gifts God had granted him.

When Cam went astray at Florida, his father purposely chose to banish him to a remote community college far from the glitz and glamour of big time college football. He wanted his son to learn the hard way that actions have consequences, both positive and negative. Cam Newton himself has often commented on the isolation of Blinn Community college and how that experience humbled him.  For perhaps the first time in his life, Cam wasn’t a rock star. He wasn’t the center of attention. At Florida, where athletes are seemingly allowed to run wild, Cam followed the pack. And he paid. At Blinn, he learned that life is not guaranteed to be easy. It’s fair to say he returned a changed man.

When it came time for him to return to the college football stage, has anyone considered that maybe, just maybe his father was hesitant to allow him to return under the guidance of a coach who was a major part of the Florida culture that had been a bad fit for his son?  That perhaps he was afraid that the lax discipline that had allowed his son to drift would reassert itself in a coach who was forged in that same fire? That maybe he wanted his son to play for a school willing to give him a fresh start and for a coach who has had no discipline issues and a reputation for being tough but fair?  That maybe he looked at the character of Gene Chizik, a coach who has had one player arrested in his two years on the Plains, and decided that he was the kind of man who would make a good mentor for his son and help Cam to continue on the path of redemption.

There are myriad reasons players (and their parents) choose a school.  Not all are scurrilous or tied to shadowy packages or fourth, fifth or sixth party rumors.

Maybe he looked at Auburn, where Chizik was in the process of signing one of the top recruiting classes in the nation and saw a chance for his son to do something really special.   I’m a graduate of Mississippi State and I have a great affinity for the school. But when you look at Auburn, a team ranked in the top 25 with high expectations, a campus with a 87,000 seat stadium, a history of championships, Heisman Trophy winners and  success and you compare that to Mississippi State, frankly there is no comparison.  If Cam Newton was my son and he was deciding between Auburn and Mississippi State, there’s no question where I would want him to go. Auburn, no offense to Mississippi State, is simply a larger and brighter stage.  Auburn is and always has been relevant to the football world.  Mississippi State only wants to be. Maybe it was as simple as that.

The Cam Newton story isn’t sordid nor should it be a cautionary tale.  Quite the contrary. Cam Newton’s resurrection at Auburn is a redemption story. It is the story of a kid who led a charmed life, succumbed to the outlaw culture that permeates Florida football, failed to live up to his own expecations and then stepped down the ladder to Blinn to become a man.  The sheer joy with which he plays the game is a clear illustration of just how much he appreciates and respects the second chance he was given.

This should be an inspirational tale, an illustration of the best that college football can be when it comes to shaping the life of the young men who participate in the game. It is not a funeral dirge for the man or for the sport.

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