It’s déjà vu all over again for Auburn University and erstwhile grad Selena Roberts.
You remember Selena. She led the charge against Duke lacrosse players accused of rape. Players who were exonerated.
You remember Selena. Let go by the New York Times. “Left” Sports Illustrated last December to pursue other interests when her contract wasn’t renewed.
Selena is back again, cloaked in the tattered shreds of what’s left of her reputation, wielding the same blunt axe she’s ground against Auburn repeatedly in the past and putting the Tiger football program back under the microscope yet again.
It’s the same tired act we’ve seen from Roberts and a host of others from Joe Schad to Pete Thamel to Andrea Kremer to Danny Sheridan to Scott Moore to Thayer Evans to desperate bloggers of every stripe over the last several years.
Raise accusations. Set the Internet on fire with rumor and innuendo. Watch allegations collapse under the weight of truth. Retreat to the cover of darkness. Repeat.
Sports fans no doubt recall the protracted NCAA investigation surrounding the recruitment of Cam Newton to Auburn University. Despite the shoddy journalism of bloggers and self-styled amateur investigative reporters, no evidence was found of any improper behavior on the part of Newton or Auburn.
In fact, in the face of a media-frenzy that was replete with half-truths and outright lies, the NCAA took the unprecedented step of announcing the accused parties’ innocence in the matter.
In hindsight, the failure of this investigation to uncover a single sanction-worthy offense is shocking. It turns out that Julie Roe Lach and the NCAA had their checkbooks out during major investigations, paying sources to provide evidence of wrongdoing on the University of Miami’s campus. Roe Lach was the lead investigator (and notable public adversary of Gene Chizik) in the Newton investigation.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the Auburn family returned to their daily lives secure in the knowledge that all non-circumstantial evidence pointed to a clean athletic program. This positive resolution, however, has not quelled the media’s wink-and-nod references to Auburn whenever the school is mentioned; the world truly believes that Auburn either got one past the extensive NCAA investigation or colluded with the governing body to keep the college football money train rolling.
Then came round two. HBO Real Sports claimed to pull the curtain back on the rogue Auburn football program and expose systemic cheating through payments to student-athletes. The problem was that the accusers were not credible and after another peek under the hood revealed zero credible evidence supporting the claims, the story died on the vine.
Surely that would be the end of this ridiculous witch hunt, thought the Auburn faithful. But it was not.
Soon allegations of grade changing in the recruitment of high school running back Jovon Robinson arose. The NCAA quickly entered to investigate and just as quickly exited stage left. Once again, Auburn passed investigative muster.
Even Bill Murray’s groundhog thinks that the story is now getting old.
Yet here it is one more time.
According to a report on a blog no one had ever heard of until yesterday, former Auburn football player Michael McNeil is said to allege NCAA violations on the part of Auburn University.
Remember the credibility problems of the HBO accusers? McNeil suffers a similar affliction. He’s currently charged with felony armed robbery and facing 21 years in prison. But wait, the credibility problems don’t stop there.
The source of McNeil’s story, that unheard of blog with the improbable handle of Roopstigo, traces back to Selena Roberts.
Yes, that Selena Roberts. From the New York Times to SI to Roopstigo. Decline and fall.
Now relegated to the shady underbelly of the blogosphere, Roberts’ taste for muckraking and irresponsible journalism remains in fine form.
“At some point, you get tired of your own voice,” Roberts said when her contract at SI expired in December. The rest of us passed that point a long time ago.
A point-by-point rebuttal of Roberts’ “article” is certainly possible, but why waste the time and energy?
We all know how this story ends: the media picks up the salacious story and feeds the insatiable 24-hour news cycle for a while. The facts come out, the story is debunked and the cloud passes. Despite the fact that nothing of substance exists, the media will continue to pound the same “Auburn is a dirty program” narrative at every opportunity.
What they’ll miss is that since the last time Auburn was flagged by the NCAA (20 years ago) ten other SEC programs have been tagged for major violations. Truth? Who needs it? Perception is easier to manage.
This particular story began to unravel almost at the moment it surfaced. In addition to the fact that some of the timelines Roberts proposed simply don’t add up, those she counted as contributors to her hatchet job immediately backed off.
Once the disputed quotes are removed, Roberts is left with a handful of nothing.
All she has is a story about an armed robbery in which McNeil was charged, some possible questions about the adequacy of his due process which are better posed to his lawyer and/or the judge, and a petulant “reporter” angry that no one will return phone calls from something called “Roopstigo”.
A neighbor’s cat had that once. Nearly killed the poor guy.