Yesterday the Never to Yield Foundation discussed the NCAA allegations that swirled around Newton and Auburn. Today in Part III of The Curious Case of Cameron Newton, we look at the real Cam Newton and examine how he, Coach Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers endured the storm of allegation and innuendo.
Controversy doesn’t define Newton or Auburn
July 13, 2011 — The more success Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers achieved on the field in the late stages of the 2010 season, the more scrutiny they faced off the field.
Allegation after allegation, most frivolous, came pouring from Newton’s detractors. It reached the absurd point that traffic tickets Newton amassed while a student at Florida were considered headline news.
Newton handled each new spurious allegation with quiet dignity and aplomb. His ability to withstand the assault seemed to enrage those determined to lay him low. His enthusiasm never wavered. His focus never faltered. Under an attack that would have felled a lesser man, Newton and by extension his Tigers prevailed.
Most of the ammunition for the rumor mill came from either speculation or faulty information. There were nuggets of truth contained in each, but that small grain of substance was covered in more deep-fried batter than a ten piece bucket of the Colonel’s chicken. It was simply easier to repeat a falsehood than it was to put in the effort to do the research to disprove it.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik claimed that he, the coaching staff and the Auburn players were unaffected by any of the rumor or innuendo then. He says they don’t hear it now.
“We’re doing right every day,” Chizik told a capacity crowd at the Baldwin County Auburn Club banquet in May. “So they can say what they want, they can write what they want, they can read what they want. We know we’re doing it right every day, so all that stuff doesn’t matter because we have our eyes on the prize.”
In his new book All In, Chizik wrote that he encourages the team and coaches to look within and ignore the external noise. To achieve that objective, Chizik said he creates a figurative ‘circle’ that includes players, coaches, athletic department personnel and their families. Anyone or anything outside the circle is an imposter.
“We find validation only from those within the circle,” Chizik wrote. “Although we respect all those outside our circle, we do not have the time or energy to worry about everyone’s opinion.
“This isn’t an elitist mentality. Instead it’s a way to protect ourselves. We are a family and family members take care of each other. That’s why we don’t allow anyone into our circle who intends to harm one of our own physically, emotionally or spiritually.”
That’s the perfect stance for a focused team and coaching staff to adopt. Unfortunately it doesn’t make the negative noise go away.
Newton found his refuge on Saturday afternoons where he put together one of the most dominant individual seasons in college football history.
“I’d wake up in the morning, cut on the TV, ‘Well, Cam Newton is this.’ Go on campus and read the newspaper and ‘Cam Newton is that.’ Put my iPod on and you’re looking at people and they’re looking back at you,” Newton said. “But I knew none of that was going to go down in that little hour or two hours that I had on that football field,” Newton told the Charlotte Observer. “It was like I was at recess. I was like a little kid. … My escape was football. I knew everything (else) had to wait.”
What was the result of the persistent attack on Newton’s character? He kept smiling. He kept winning. He captured almost every award available to him. He carried himself with class and never fought back. He kept his head when all those assailing him were losing theirs. He did so with boundless enthusiasm on the field and dignity off it.
The Carolina Panthers of the National Football League were so disturbed by the baseless assaults on Newton’s character that they made him the first pick of the April draft.
Carolina management went on record saying they did their due diligence and chased down the many rumors that swirled around the former Auburn quarterback. As they did, the stories crumbled and they found no substance.
“A lot of stories that you heard, when you went and actually checked them out you came away feeling good about Cam Newton as a person,” Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said after the franchise selected Newton first in the April draft. “Everybody had positive things to say about him. All the time you spend with him, you come away and he’s a genuine kid. A genuine, driven kid. The people you talk to have a lot of good things to say about him off the field. Then they talked about him as a player and in the locker room. They tell you countless stories of leadership.
“We obviously investigated the stories at Florida and Cam will be the first to admit he made some mistakes there,” Hurney said. “But the way he came back and the way he responded on and off the field at both Blinn and Auburn is very impressive.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera added that Newton was the most researched player he’s ever been around.
He also confirmed an unprecedented assault on Newton.
“The hardest thing was, every time you turn around somebody would call you about something or send you an email about something.” Rivera said. “It got to the point where I called somebody I knew who was connected to the Florida program and I put them on the spot.
“You know it’s crazy because you hear all these stories,” Rivera continued. “But then when you confront people with the stories they’d say ‘well, where did that come from?’ I’m telling you it was unbelievable. You begin to wonder why are people saying the things that have been said?
“We were put in a situation where we really had to do a lot of work. The more work you did, the more convinced you became.”
Will the Real Cam Newton Please Stand Up?
When the Carolina Panthers looked, they found no substance to the rumors that dogged Newton as he completed one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of college football.
If Newton wasn’t a strutting punk with a selfish attitude and a checkered past who was he really?
If you ask the people who know Newton best, they tell you he’s a humble young man who exudes an aura of leadership and who derives his greatest joy from helping others.
“He has a charismatic personality in terms of bringing players together,” Hurney said. “We heard countless stories about his leadership. He would call players and get them to come work out on their own. Just countless good stories.”
“One of the great leadership stories we heard was about the halftime speech he gave at Alabama. You want to hear a great story, ask their (Auburn’s) coaches about that,” Rivera said. “His teammates told us the same stories. It’s there.”
“The people you talk to about him have a lot of very good things to say about him off the field,” Hurney added. “How he loves to work with kids; how would volunteer to go to elementary schools to spend time with the kids there.”
Newton became a regular fixture at Wright’s Road Elementary School in Auburn. He went to the school on his own in August, introduced himself to Principal Lynda Tremaine and asked if he could possibly mentor kids who might be struggling.
At the time, Newton was a relative unknown. He came to the school every Monday to meet with a group of grade boys in desperate need of a role model.
“I had no idea who Cam Newton was,” Tremaine said. “I know now. But when he came he impressed me with his sincere interest in helping kids.”
Even as he emerged as one of the most dynamic players in the game, his dedication to the school and those students didn’t waver. He kept coming each Monday, going over homework with the youngsters and talking to them about their behavior and their goals.
He donated his fee from an appearance on the David Letterman Show after he was named the Heisman Trophy winner, all $200 of it, to the school.
After Newton was drafted by the Panthers and he took the first steps in his professional life, he maintained contact with the school, participating in an April conference call with the students he mentored.
Newton shrugs off any praise for his work with the students, saying it’s an easy decision for him to donate his time to kids in need.
“A lot of times, especially in this day and time, a lot of children don’t have father figures or anybody they can sit down with and just express how they really feel about whatever is going on in their life,” Newton told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “We do know that kids the age of 6, 7, 8 or through 13, they do have feelings, too. They’re growing right in front of our eyes.
“For me to do that, it’s a no-brainer for me to take time out of my day to help a little kid, because that’s my passion.”
In November, the students at Wrights Mill surprised Newton with their own rendition of Auburn’s team entrance song “All I Do Is Win.” The students performed “All I Do Is Read” for a delighted Newton.
“It put a warmth in my heart to say look at these kids, look what they’re doing,” Newton said.
“There’s no changing me,” Newton said. “I pray every single day that people see not what I can do on the field, but see my heart and what I’m capable of doing; what I want to do for other people.”
“He’s a big guy with a big heart. He means the world to us,” Tremaine said.
Tomorrow in Part IV of The Curious Case of Cameron Newton, the Never to Yield Foundation will focus on how Auburn players and coaches were impacted by the drumbeat of negativity and consider potential sources for the unprecedented animosity.