>Thursday Lunch: Son of a Preacher Man, Dissecting the Cam Newton Saga

Posted: December 2, 2010 in college football, ncaafb
Tags: , , , , , ,

>By Dylan Jamaal Davis

Cam Newton smiles a lot. He has smiled after every one of his 43 touchdowns this season. He has grinned after all 12 of Auburns victories on the year. He flashes the pearly whites whenever he bowls over another defender or hits a receiver with another frozen rope downfield. Newton has broken into smiles so often this season it looks as if he’s auditioning for a Crest commercial. But really, can you blame him? He’s the starting quarterback for the top ranked team in the nation. With one more win this Saturday in the SEC championship game against South Carolina Newton will lead Auburn to its first ever BCS title game appearance. To top it all off, every respectable Heisman watch list starts and ends with the big QB and, barring disaster, Newton and his boyish grin will be raising the stiff-armed trophy on December 11 in New York City. With two more wins, Newton will be forever immortalized at Auburn as one of the greatest players to ever throw on the blue and orange of the Tigers.   

If you had showed that previous paragraph to any college football pundit or fan before the season started, most would have bet money that Newton would be the most popular player and person in the country, and for most of the season they all would have been correct. Up until November 4th Newton had endeared himself to everyone (except Alabama fans) with his fantastic play and ear-to-ear grins. His highlight reel jaunts through opposing defenses, as well as his execution as head of Auburns explosive offense, made him a Sportscenter staple and drew comparisons to a former SEC dual threat master, Tim Tebow.

On November 4th a preliminary story broke involving Mississippi State and the recruitment of Newton out of Blinn Junior College in 2009. Although there were some vague accusations of payment, details were few and far between. That didn’t stop analysts on national and local media outlets from trying to make sense of the few tidbits of information that had been leaked. A few adventurous prognosticators started throwing around the thought that Newton may be ruled ineligible for these misdoings. Others followed suit and soon the lead story on all the major sports networks involved the possibility of a Heisman frontrunner being disbarred in the midst of the season.

At first blush, it was all a little tough to swallow. Cam Newton? The freakish athlete who always looks thrilled to be playing football? He took money? As the story was chewed up and digested by the 24-hour sports news cycle, the name of Reggie Bush was brought up time and time again. Bush was the dynamic Heisman winner from USC who forfeited his trophy back to the Heisman Trust without ever implicitly stating any wrongdoings on his part. At the dawn of that story, many of the same thoughts occurred as have with the Newton saga. The masses were first in denial that a player of Bush’s caliber could ever be accused of such a heinous misdeed. 

As with Newton this year, it was dismissed by many (including yours truly) as just an attention-grabbing story that would be swept under the rug before the week was over. Just as with the Bush story, as more details were released about Newton and more informants spoke up, a harsh realization spread through the college football world that this story may have legs. Many analysts took this opportunity to rehash old Newton stories, like the time he supposedly stole a laptop while at Florida (he was never charged and the matter has since been cleared). A new story surfaced regarding a possibly covered-up cheating scandal that had gotten Newton expelled from Florida. The line became blurred between truth, speculation, and downright hearsay. In an age of everyone trying to break a story just to stay ahead of the competition it seemed as if Newton would become just another casualty. While headlines screamed of misdeed after misdeed, facts were few and far between. At that point the NCAA had come forth with no comment and it seemed like the story would fade into the background of a fabulous on the field unless any more information was brought forth. That’s when Cecil Newton was introduced.

Cam Newton’s father Cecil is a minister in Newnan, Georgia and has been a huge factor in his sons’ life since he was a boy. By all accounts, he is a devoted family man and many who know him describe him as an upstanding citizen, husband, and father. But while many were focused on the misdoings of his son, it soon came to light that the player might not have acted alone. In fact, the younger Newton may have had no idea what was happening. Cam may have just been an innocent young man being taken advantage of by a greedy family member. The same narrative is heard again and again with poor, young athletes in that they would have succeeded more except for the lecherous friends and family always bringing them down. Some, such as Allen Iverson, are able to handle these issues and still produce when it matters. Others, such as Antoine Walker, can’t handle the pressure and are soon bankrupt morally and in their pockets. Although it seemed as if the Newton family was beyond all that and those issues wouldn’t plague them, $100,000 or more in cash is very enticing. While Cecil was shaking down Mississippi State for money to have his son recruited, could Cam have been sitting idly in the background? Could he really be completely in the dark about this entire matter?

I find that all a little tough to believe. The fact that the younger Newton would have no knowledge of the entire matter until the story was broken by ESPN last month is completely ridiculous. I’m not saying that Cam was directly involved in the process, but just by knowing of the possibility that money could change hands, he would have implicated himself and been just as guilty as his father and everyone else involved. Although his father obviously put his own wants before the good of his son, the entire process should have been shut off by Cam. He knew what might happen and he decided that $100,000, or whatever amount of money was agreed upon, was worth risking his college career. He knew that if he or his father entered into talks with those Mississippi State boosters he would have violated a major NCAA rule and the infraction would affect all involved, including the school and his future teammates.

Yesterday, the NCAA made its ruling, and it has been made abundantly clear that they see the entire situation differently. They ruled that Cam had absolutely no knowledge of what was going on under the table and his father was fully to blame for the entire matter. This sets a dangerous precedent for future recruits, who can just state that they have plausible deniability and have no penalty brought upon them. How many times in the next few years will we hear about a player that has been implicated in a pay-for-play scandal only to say that he had no knowledge of the situation, that a family member facilitated the entire process? The NCAA may try to spin the ruling as looking like they care about their student athletes and they can protect them from evil family members and rogue boosters, but what are they really saying? If Newton was the backup guard or the kicker, would he have been afforded the same protection? The story certainly wouldn’t have been as big, but would the institution have been as eager to protect its young assets then? It’s impossible to say, and speculation won’t ever uncover the true story, but for now Cam Newton will just keep smiling.


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