March 30 — In a special report airing tonight on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, four former Auburn players make a variety of allegations about cash and benefits they recieved both during the recruiting process and while they were members of the Auburn football program.

These allegations, regardless of their veracity, are damaging. No matter what might be discovered later and no matter that scores of teammates have ridiculed the claims, Auburn has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.  Thankfully that court has no jurisdiction and carries no real weight.

If even some of the allegations are true they are certainly disappointing.  The types of activities described by the four go against what Auburn stands for and cannot be tolerated.  There is no excuse for it.

It doesn’t matter whether other schools engage in such improper conduct even though sources close to two other SEC programs confirmed hearing of similar instances on their campuses.  Auburn and Auburn people are and should continue to be better than that. 

Even assuming at least some of the allegations have merit, the transparent agenda of the HBO special is troubling on a number of levels.  It ignores compelling and contradictory information provided by literally hundreds of players who were in the same places at the same time as those who made allegations. It fails to ask the appropriate questions and takes fantastical allegations at face value. It fails to follow up on the assortment of claims made by the four players and offers nothing in the way of corroboration.

It is at its core a smear piece. 

Forget for the moment that this is a story about Auburn and imagine that HBO Real Sports had locked in on your favorite college program.  Is the absolute lack of professionalism and accountability exhibited by HBO what you would accept or expect were your program in the crosshairs? 

In an interview on WJOX, Real Sports corresponent Andrea Kremer confirmed HBO’s decision to target Auburn, but her rationale was laughable. 

“There’s a history,” Kremer said, noting that she helped cover the Eric Ramsey case in 1991.  Yes, 1991, TWENTY years ago.  How many other programs have had issues in the last 20 years?  She also referenced Cam Newton’s recruitment at Mississippi State and indicated that this “put Auburn back in the news.”

What she should have said was that Real Sports attempted to grab its share of the Cam Newton spotlight and its primary interest was in using his fame to boost their ratings. When the Newton angle fizzled, HBO cast a wider net and scraped up a handful of disgruntled former Tigers willing to play along.

If HBO were interested in legitimate discussion, why were interviews with the numerous athletes who denied improper conduct not considered for the broadcast?  When fifty deny for every one who implies, why only report what the one has to say? 

Kremer declined to specify how many players were contacted or address HBO’s refusal to interview players who didn’t confirm their position.  Is only negative commentary considered credible?  That reeks of a pre-determined agenda. 

In the interviews three of the four former Auburn players discussed benefits received on the recruiting trail from a number of other schools including LSU, Ohio State, Michigan State and Georgia. 

Were any other players recruited by those four colleges interviewed for the show?  If HBO were truly interested in investigative journalism and in legitimate discovery, it should have at the very least followed up with recruits who accompanied the players making allegations on their trips.  It should have contacted other players recruited by those programs at the same time to establish a pattern.  That it failed to do so casts significant doubt on the legitimacy of the entire broadcast. 

Consider the players HBO did interview. 

One left Auburn early, against advice, was drafted in the seventh round and never gained the foothold he sought in the NFL.  One went undrafted after graduation, tried the free agent route but never stuck and ended up bouncing around the Arena League.  One struggled out of junior college and never played for Auburn.  One was injured as a freshman, never played again and sued Auburn staffers. His case was thrown out immediately before agreeing to an interview with HBO. 

What do the four have in common?  All had NFL aspirations.  All, for various reasons, failed to achieve those dreams.  Kremer described them as “broken” but instead of attributing their alleged brokenness to their own poor decisions, she glibly blamed “the system.” 

Defensive lineman T.J. Jackson played with both Reddick and McClover at Auburn and is among many former players who have publicly doubted the claims made.  In an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News Jackson hinted that the four may have a personal agenda and are seeking the spotlight as a way to address percieved wrongs.

“By dragging your school into this, you’re not getting famous. You’re getting infamous,” Jackson said.  “They didn’t seem like this when we were playing, when we were getting on TV and in the newspapers and everybody was seeing us. Some guys don’t know how to let it go when it’s gone.”

Some of the allegations don’t pass the basic smell test. 

Ramsey alleged cash handshakes as the players exited the stadium after games.  Anyone who has ever waited in the area by the gates for player autographs knows that this allegation doesn’t hold much water.  

A sportswriter who has covered Auburn football said “There are hundreds of people in that area waiting on the players: Kids, families, reporters, friends.  The chance of anyone being able to slip a player cash without it being seen is a practical impossibility.”

HBO’s reporting borders on recklessness. In her interview with WJOX, Kremer admitted the show had no way to verify or document the claims made by the former players. 

Airing the reports without any corroboration while also ignoring a significant and vocal opposing view puts Auburn in a no-win situation. It’s virtually impossible to prove something didn’t happen when there’s no proof that it ever did. 

Former Tiger Quentin Groves called the allegations “ludicrious”  in an interview aired on WJOX Wednesday. He said he spoke with McClover who told him “he had to do what was best for his family” and insinuated that in exchange for making the allegations he was receiving help from HBO (in terms of publicity) with a football camp he is putting on.  (HBO is listed as a title sponsor of McClover’s youth camp.)

According to published reports, Reddick applied for a job as a graduate assistant at Auburn last year and was turned down.  He also requested BCS Championship game tickets from the school and his request was denied. If Auburn was as bad as he portrayed it in his interview, why try so hard to go back? 

Ramsey attempted to sue a former trainer and assistant coach at Auburn over an injury he sustained. His case was thrown out. 

Why would the players turn against Auburn?  Groves had a one-word answer: “Bitterness.”

He said they are blaming the school for their own failings. 

HBO Real Sports in its failure to effectively and judiciously report has also failed.  This isn’t journalism.  It’s sensationalism at its worst.

Who does HBO have to blame?

 

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