National / Sports / November 18, 2010

The ongoing saga of Cam Newton

A few weeks back, sources from Mississippi State University told ESPN that Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton had asked for around $200,000 in his recruitment. Mississippi State, as it happens, said “thanks, but no thanks,” and Newton went to Auburn, where he’s on the verge of a national championship.

Good decision, right? Well, probably not.

No one is saying, right now at least, that Auburn head coach Gene Chizik or anyone affiliated with the university paid Cam Newton to play there – or gave him anything. No one. But there’s plenty of smoke.

For one, America’s naïveté about amateurism seems to be coming to an end (probably the only positive aspect of the Reggie Bush accepting gifts fallout). And Newton, as you many have noted, is not exactly a squeaky clean kid. First enrolled at the University of Florida, he decided to withdraw and transfer to tiny Blinn College after he allegedly purchased a stolen laptop computer. In addition to that, some have alleged Newton was about to be dismissed for academic dishonesty.

And in a sporting world that is further influenced by the mercenary-like contributions of young athletes, Newton leads the charge. After doing his time in junior college purgatory, Newton’s recruitment was unique: major college football players do not usually take this route. A polished prospect, Newton was ready to start the second he set foot on campus at Auburn. No questions asked.

Throughout all of this, Newton has been shielded from the media–a media that, by and large, has treated Newton like a patsy. When Auburn narrowly defeated the University of Georgia last weekend, CBS commentators were falling at Newton’s feet, praising his resilience and his ability to play on following such traumatic allegations. The commentators all but dismissed the negative allegations as bunk.

Others have questioned the credibility of both the Mississippi State sources and ESPN (for going so far with a seemingly flimsy, “word against word” story). ESPN, a network with almost no capacity for genuine, hard-hitting journalism, is being accused of being too aggressive; up is down, black is white, etc.

And some have decided to martyr Newton, as some sort of ultra-victim of the system, Jason Whitlock, the disturbingly sophomoric and schizophrenic sportswriter, went so far as to call the Mississippi State sources and ESPN reporters who helped break the story “slave-catchers.” I don’t think I need to complete the analogy for you.

On the one hand, I understand where Whitlock is coming from, while on the other, I’m horrified. While I am a wishy-washy supporter of the “pay NCAA athletes” stance, I wish guys like Whitlock would not deny the very obvious fact that Cam Newton is clearly getting something out of his time at Florida and Auburn (aside from the alleged $200,000).

Counting his time at Florida (and discounting his time at Blinn), Newton has been given three years of tremendous coaching, a weekly four-hour nationally televised audition for the NFL, and a college education. Should Auburn make the national championship this season, yes, they may make eight figures–and if they paid Newton, that’s a hell of an investment–and it is not right that Newton and his teammates will make none of that sum.

But, to equate the NCAA system of student-athletes with slavery? The NCAA is not to blame in this; rather, it’s the culture that has surrounded Newton his entire life. Why else would a kid with so much to lose (allegedly) buy a stolen laptop and (allegedly) cheat on enough tests that he faced near-certain expulsion at the University of Florida?

Allegations which, by the way, force me to wonder what the hell the Athletic Department at Florida is doing. I’ve got friends at mid-major Division I schools (who don’t play football, mind you), and I don’t think one of them has opened a book since high school. If we’re going to blame the NCAA for anything, it should be their abhorrent academic standards–see: Derrick Rose, ACT–not their stance on amateurism. Major Division I student-athletes get enough in the way of compensation already (this, of course, coming from a Division III athlete).

But in support of Newton, an article from the Nov. 1 edition of “Sports Illustrated” had an interesting little anecdote. Newton, while surveying his possible college destinations after Blinn, supposedly favored Mississippi State, because of his relationship with their head coach (former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen).

Newton’s father, resolute in his belief that it was his decision to make–perhaps because his son already blew his chance at Florida–ended up choosing Auburn, due to the school’s proximity to Newton’s Atlanta home and the team’s experienced offensive line.

And now Cam is paying for his father’s decision.

As we march towards the Southeastern Conference Championship, and the eventual Bowl Championship Series, Newton will most likely be shielded even more.

We will continue to read about what happened at Florida. We’ll see Coach Chizik at the podium every Monday through Friday, defending Cam and vilifying the media for wanting to ask the kid a few questions. We’ll hear commentators pitying Cam and alleging underhanded tactics on the part of Mississippi State. We’ll hear plenty of people speaking for Cam.

But we won’t hear Cam.

Kevin Morris

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