July 11, 2011 — Auburn’s Heisman Trophy and national championship winning quarterback Cameron Newton exploded onto the college football landscape with a dramatic, ankle breaking run through the heart of the LSU defense, at the time the nation’s best, on October 23, 2010. That highlight reel scamper pushed Newton to the forefront of a crowded pack of Heisman contenders and served notice to the rest of the college football world that his Auburn Tigers were a legitimate force in the national championship race.
At the end of the day, Newton had passed Jimmy Sidle to become the SEC’s career rushing leader at quarterback and he’d eclipsed Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan’s 40-year old Auburn record for touchdowns.
As he approached the goal line during his season-defining run against the Bengals, Newton found an added burst of speed that carried him past LSU defensive back Patrick Peterson, a legitimate Heisman contender himself.
Newton’s acceleration altered Peterson’s angle and the best the LSU defender could do was try to bulldog Newton down from behind. Never slowing, Newton carried Peterson into the endzone for an Auburn score.
Since that October afternoon, Newton has carried burdens far heavier than Peterson and endured an assault greater than any scheme the LSU defense could devise.
His reputation, his character and his integrity have been called into question by fans, bloggers and the media. The majority of the campaign against Newton was based on little more than speculation, rumor and innuendo. Auburn, too, suffered the slings and arrows of a media feeding frenzy that was long on hype and short on substance.
Over the next four days the Never to Yield Foundation will examine the controversies that surrounded Newton and Auburn. The realities behind many of the falsehoods that have been ceaselessly repeated over the last nine months will be exposed.
In today’s first installment, we outline Newton’s troubled tenure at Florida.
Tomorrow, the Never to Yield Foundation will address allegations of NCAA improprieties and what they mean for Newton and Auburn.
In Wednesday’s installment, the Never to Yield Foundation will examine the real Cam Newton, including his dedication to helping elementary school children and what the Carolina Panthers discovered when they chased down the rumors that swirled around the eventual first pick in the NFL draft.
In Thursday’s series finale, the Never to Yield Foundation will consider the question “Why Auburn?” as it pertains to the unprecedented assault launched by the media as the Tigers marched to the national title. Questions regarding Nick Fairley’s play, Auburn’s decades-stale history with the NCAA and potential sources of the animosity toward Auburn will be addressed.
Cam Newton: A Gator’s Tale
Newton has become almost synonymous with Auburn football. He joins fellow Heisman winners Bo Jackson and Pat Sullivan among the most iconic athletes in the long and storied history of the program.
But Newton was a Florida Gator first. He signed with Florida and Urban Meyer in the middle of the Gator’s national championship run and was considered the heir apparent to the face of the program, Tim Tebow.
That’s not how things worked out. Newton struggled in a Florida culture that was rife with disciplinary issues. In four years at least 25 different Gator football players logged a total of more than 31 arrests. Newton was among the twenty five.
He eventually left the Florida program and transferred to Blinn Community College in Texas where the less-than-glamorous surroundings helped him find himself and refocus on the game.
Academic issues at Florida?
The national media blindly accepts that Cam Newton had academic issues and was on the verge of suspension or expulsion during his time at Florida.
Thayer Evans, a blogger with a well-documented history of providing less than reliable information, reports that “sources” told him about instances of academic impropriety while Newton was enrolled at Florida.
Other media outlets picked up the story without doing any research and reported the same, careful to use the “according to Thayer Evans” shield. As the story went mainstream, a double level of shielding evolved that included the tag “ESPN is reporting that according to Thayer Evans…”
One poorly sourced report that lacked the proper documentation mushroomed into an established ‘fact’.
Multiple University of Florida sources refuted Evans’ version of the story.
In a CBSSports article posted on November 9, 2010, two independently-verified sources with extensive knowledge of the Florida academic disciplinary system (one was confirmed to work 10 to 12 cases on the Florida Student Conduct Committee) debunked Thayer’s contention, noting that Newton had never been brought before the Florida Student Conduct Committee. One was quoted as saying, “If Cameron Newton would have come before the committee, we would have known about it.”
But that doesn’t matter. By the time they issued their statements, Evans’ perception had become reality.
Does it matter to Evans? Of course not. He got his page views, people talked about him and there is no accountabilty or retribution.
That was hardly the only story to cast Newton in a less-than-flattering light. All manner of rumor and innuendo was broadcast from media nationwide.
The ‘Stolen’ Laptop’
Surely Newton stole a laptop while he was at Florida; his mugshot was circulated all over message boards. That has to be true.
Despite reports to the contrary, there is no official record to indicate that he did.
Newton was arrested for possessing a laptop reported to be stolen. He claimed then (and maintains now) he purchased the laptop from another student.
He was arrested, he was charged and as is often the case he was allowed to plead out and enter an intervention program. Once the program was complete charges against him were dropped. It’s a fairly typical scenario for a young person who has no criminal history.
Was it Newton’s best moment? Of course not. He made a foolish mistake, an error of youth and arrogance. He paid the price for his transgressions, left Florida and committed himself to recovering from that mistake. He left the glamour and glory that is often accorded high profile athletes at Division 1 schools and battled back in the harsh climate of tiny Blinn College in Texas.
Is that a reason to pillory Newton?
No. In fact, his story should serve as one of inspiration to other youngsters who have strayed from the proper path.
Newton’s remarkable resurgence serves as a crystal clear illustration that redemption is possible. Or at least it should.
In the hands of today’s media? It’s just another cross for Newton to bear.
Tomorrow in Part II of The Curious Case of Cameron Newton, the Never to Yield Foundation will address the NCAA controversy and subsequent rulings that rendered Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback ineligible for a day.