Wiedmer: Unstoppable on field, Newton assailed off it

Wiedmer: Unstoppable on field, Newton assailed off it

November 10th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

This should be the greatest autumn of Cam Newton's life. Auburn's junior quarterback already has thrown for 19 touchdowns, rushed for 15 and led the undefeated Tigers to a No. 2 national ranking.

Until last week he seemed the surest Heisman Trophy winner since Reggie Bush in 2005. Of course, Bush gave his Heisman back earlier this fall because of NCAA violations involving him during his playing career at Southern Cal.

But at least he got to win college football's most prestigious award. Allegations and rumors surrounding Newton's earlier college stop at Florida may undo his Heisman run before it begins.

And that's just part of the reason why this unseemly underground campaign to link Newton to everything but terrorism and world hunger during his time with the Gators is human behavior at its lowest and worst.

This is not to defend Newton as the second coming of Tim Tebow, though that was obviously UF coach Urban Meyer's plan when he signed him out of Atlanta's Westlake High School in the winter of 2007. But Newton sat behind Tebow his freshman year, got hurt his sophomore season and transferred out the following spring after he was suspended for stealing a laptop computer.

That theft - since wiped from Newton's record because he completed a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders - is old news.

But last week's unsubstantiated story that Newton was shopped around for a large amount of cash as he prepared to return to Division I football and this week's news that he was accused of academic cheating on three separate occasions at Florida are - in the word of Auburn coach Gene Chizik - "garbage."

And not because they may not be true. In fact, no one is saying Newton didn't have his share of troubles at Florida.

Even the player acknowledged Tuesday, "I'm not going to entertain something that took place not three months, not six months, not a year but two years ago. ... I'm not going to say anything about it, whether I did or did not do it."

In other words, I'm moving on and so should you.

You can say character should matter when it comes to the Heisman, and it should. That's presumably why Bush gave back the trophy, which showed enough character that the Heisman Trust folks should someday return it to him, if only because fellow Heisman winners O.J. Simpson, Mike Garrett and Johnny Rodgers - to name but three - have arguably displayed much less character than Bush yet still retain their little bronze statues.

In fact, Rodgers was convicted of a felony (robbing a gas station) before he won the award. Yet he was not only allowed to remain in the competition but ultimately carry it home. Talk about forgive and forget.

But that was a kinder, gentler America, one not yet glued to the Internet, bloggers, Twitter and talk radio - one not yet obsessed with other people's shortcomings.

To update a classic Mark Twain observation: A lie can travel twice around cyberspace while the truth is changing its password.

Which is not to say anything said or written about Newton over the past two weeks is necessarily a lie. Beyond that, if he received so much as a thin dime to attend Auburn, he shouldn't just be denied the Heisman but should be ruled permanently ineligible.

But other than those seemingly outrageous charges about the money, Newton's past dirty little secrets also aren't the whole truth.

For instance, Newton's roommate at Florida, defensive back Joe Haden, tweeted on Tuesday: "I wish everyone really knew Cam Newton as a person!!! He was my roommate in college at Florida and is such a good person! Keep him in your prayers."

There's also this from Wrights Mill Road Elementary School principal Lynda Tremaine, who has watched Newton interact with her students at least once a week since classes began in August at the Auburn, Ala., city school.

Citing Newton's work with four fifth-grade boys with past problems, Tremaine told an Auburn website last month, "The teachers cannot believe the difference in their whole attitude. He has told his boys, 'You know there were times that I was bad,' but he lets them know that we learn from our mistakes."

Not everyone learns from mistakes, of course. Maybe Newton merely has learned how to divert attention away from his. Maybe Auburn eventually will forfeit every victory Newton ever played in.

But it also seems a wee bit strange that all this is just surfacing now, when the Tigers are three victories from a spot in the BCS title game, when Newton is on the verge of the Heisman Trophy, when a whole bunch of Florida fans are wondering why Gators coach Urban Meyer doesn't have Newton running his offense.

Maybe it's garbage and maybe it's not, but it definitely stinks.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.