What have we been told about smoke?

July 29, 2011 — If you follow Alabama or Auburn football with any degree of interest, you’ve by now heard of T-Town Menswear and its gregarious owner Tom, who’s been “dressing players for the Alabama football team for years.”

You’ve seen Tom smiling proudly on the sidelines and in luxury boxes at Alabama games.

You’ve seen him posing with numerous players both at his store and on the field.

You’ve seen Trent Richardson, Julio Jones, Terrance Cody, Mark Ingram and numerous other Alabama players posing, signing and hanging out in Tom’s Tuscaloosa store.

You’ve seen Tom’s championship rings.  You’ve seen his bling.

You’ve seen the jerseys of former and current Alabama players lining his storefront.  You’ve seen the tons of other memorabilia that crowds his University Mall location in Tuscaloosa.

You’ve seen photos of current and former players signing jerseys, balls, hats and other items as Tom hovers nearby.

You’ve seen him out to eat with groups of players and an entourage.

You’ve seen his ads.

You’ve seen him with Nick Saban. You’ve seen him with Mal Moore and with Joe Namath.

You’ve probably seen photos of players lounging in Tom’s office, working on his computer and hanging out with his customers and friends.

Because that’s how most college football players love to spend their free time, just hanging out in the suit store in the mall.   With a booster.. err… super cool old dude.

You may have seen a few pictures Tom probably wishes he’d erased earlier.

It’s possible you haven’t seen all of them yet.

Celebrated muckrakers Clay Travis (of the relatively new online sports venture Outkick the Coverage) and Brooks Melichior (of Sports By Brooks fame) have both aggressively pursued T-Town Tom’s relationship with Alabama players and how that relationship might cross various problematic boundaries.

As has been noted here previously both Travis and Melchior are more interested in eyeballs than accuracy, so their current outcry must be viewed through the same lens that applies when they dial up the sensationalism in regard to other schools.  It’s also worth noting, though, that for all the sensationalism Brooks brings to the table, he was one of the few out in front of the Ohio State story.

Beyond Travis and Melchior you’ve seen a few legitimate sports analysts question the relationship between T-Town Tom and the Alabama players.

You’ve seen many state and local media outlets scramble to look the other way.

You’ve heard Alabama head coach Nick Saban take to the airways to dismiss the situation. That he chose to do so on a Texas radio station is odd, but when you consider that his conduit there, Ian Fitzsimmons, is an avowed Alabama fan it makes some sense.

You’ve also seen ESPN’s Joe Schad rush into the gulf, wave the green flag and announce with certainty “nothing to see here, please move along.”

Within hours of the first photos beginning to circulate a week ago, Schad raced to his twitter and tweeted:

Alabama has looked into relationship between players like TRichardson and T-Town menswear. Alabama concluded players did not receive extra benefits. Alabama sent cease and desist letter to company in December.

Well, that’s it then.  There was an alleged letter. In December. That puts paid to two years (or more) of photos.

All my dogs are running around in the neighborhood.  I think I’ll go close the window.  That’ll take care of it.

Glad Joe’s cool with it.  Nothing to see here, please do not panic!

If you’ve seen excerpts the letter (strangely addressed “To Whom It May Concern:”), you’ve also seen the phrase Auburn fans have been bludgeoned with since November: “at this time.”

It is important for you to understand the University (of Alabama) is not making specific conclusions or specific allegations against you at this time.

Uh oh.  We’ve been told repeatedly what at this time truly means.

We’ve all been informed on multiple occasions that  “at this time” can clearly only be translated as “it’s a matter of time.”

Schad (and others like him) gleefully parsed this phrase for all of us several months ago in regard to the NCAA and Cam Newton. It’s been beaten to death on message boards and blogs with regularity since.

To be fair, it’s not the purpose of the Never to Yield Foundation to say whether there were or weren’t  violations (or multiples of violations) committed by T-Town Tom and his numerous Tide pals.  We’re just looking at the plume of smoke billowing out of Tuscaloosa and wondering why others seemingly have scant interest in its potential cause.

Because where there’s smoke, there must be fire.  We’ve been told that repeatedly as well.

We find it curious that Schad, in particular, was so quick to leap to the defense.

Auburn and Newton were convicted in the court of public opinion by people like Schad on nothing more than shadows, vapor and insidious message board rumors.  We’ve seen evidence that many of the allegations about Newton and Auburn originated (translation: were fabricated) on select message boards and then peddled to hungry media outlets by persons with a responsibility to know better.

Yet when actual tangible, undeniable, physical evidence of possible improprieties surfaces, as in the Ohio State tattoo issue originally and now in the reams of T-Town Tom photos, where’s the outcry from Schad or from the New York Times?

Alabama said nothing was wrong, so that’s it.  Over, done with, gone.  Really?

How many times did Auburn officials in the early going say Auburn did nothing wrong in regard to Cam Newton’s recruitment to Auburn?

What was Schad’s stance then?  Did he quickly dismiss the speculation and move on to something else?  Did he tweet to confirm that it was over just because Auburn sent a letter?

We all know the answer to that question.  Schad’s shoddy reporting about Newton and Auburn shortened his leash at ESPN according to multiple reports.

How many times did Auburn reporters, people like Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover, people with real sources close to the ground, repeat that nothing was wrong, that the conspiracy theories in relation to Auburn and Newton that sprouted like weeds were frivolous, that the frenzy was unwarranted?  Seventy times seven?

They’re still saying it.  But who’s listening?

For ten months the people who know told you none of the crazy conspiracy theories hold water.

So far they’ve been vindicated while the baying dogs chased dead trails for almost a year.

Auburn officials are on record.  So is Tiger coach Gene Chizik.

Schad’s tweeter hasn’t caught up to the news yet, apparently.

What was unintentionally amusing was the outcry raging from the handful of Auburn-hating message boards that pollute the Internet.

How dare someone make insinuations about anything improper occurring!  What an insult!  Every one of those photos can be explained away.  Why should we have to defend anything?

Even more humorous was this repeated suggestion:

Maybe it’s time for people to stop throwing rocks at each other.

Seriously?  Ten months of constant stoning and one rock bouncing back generates a call to armistice?

It seems metaphorical geese don’t like being subjected to even a little taste of what gander has endured.

Message board wailers cried foul at full volume completely oblivious to the irony of their own mud-stained hands.

Here’s one thought that could cause them to sleep a little less soundly than Gene Chizik does every night.

When’s the last time Joe Schad was right about anything?


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