Following up on a story I wrote on April 28, 2010 when Cam Newton was first announced as the Auburn starting quarterback, things have, well, worked out quite well. Not only has Newton emerged as the clear favorite in this year's Heisman race, he's led the Tigers to an undefeated 9-0 record and has Auburn in position to play for the national championship if they can run the table, which means getting by reigning national champions Alabama on November 26.
But back on April 28, Newton was best known for stealing a laptop computer, although he says he purchased it, in November of 2008 while still a member of the Florida Gators, which he proceeded to toss out of a window as police stepped out of his room to determine if the serial number on the computer in question matched that of the stolen computer. Newton became an instant villain and an easy target for any and all Gator-haters.
Newton transferred to Blinn College in Texas to seek playing time after it became clear that John Brantley would succeed Tim Tebow as the Gators quarterback. While at Blinn, Newton led his team to the 2009 NJCAA National Championship and eventually wound up at Auburn University as a member of the Tigers. The rest, as they say, is history.
Had Newton not found his way to Auburn and become the quarterback of an undefeated team with a clear path to the national championship game as well as the Heisman frontrunner, he might still be that former backup quarterback at Florida who stole a laptop and threw it out the window; at least in the public's eye.
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I don't know him and have never met him, but listening to Newton speak and observing him as the leader of the Auburn Tigers, one gets the impression of a good kid with high character. If you had never heard of the laptop incident, you'd probably have a hard time believing Newton would be capable of committing such a crime. Nobody is denying that what Newton did was wrong, of course. That goes without saying.
The charges against Newton were eventually dropped after he completed a pretrial intervention program. Newton commented in the spring on the incident. "I mean, I'm a man," he said according to the Mobile Press-Register. "And if I did wrong, I'm going to say I did wrong. Knowing what I know now, would I have bought the computer? No. Being a man, you have to take full responsibility for the actions that you do. And I did."
To say that college athletes-most of whom are no more mature than the average college student-are swiftly and sometimes unjustly vilified by the media and fans (particularly those of opposing teams) would be redundant.
College athletes know that by accepting a scholarship to play college ball, especially at a large program, they're going to be under a microscope and subject to the scrutiny of writers, bloggers, forum and message board users, and, of course, 24-hour cable news. They obviously need to take that into consideration before making a decision that could potentially land them in hot water with the law, their head coach, their school or even their fans. But to judge a young man's character based on one incident, of which most of us do not know the full details, is irresponsible, unfair and a bit dangerous.
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Take an article written by Michael McKnight of SI.com on July 29, 2010 titled, "The untold story behind Jeremiah Masoli's past, downfall at Oregon". McKnight opens by writing, "Jeremiah Masoli is asking you to open your mind, to consider the possibility that, regardless of what you've read or heard, he is not a thug." The story presents several details of the incident concerning the theft of several items from a fraternity house that had not been previously discussed or made well-known.
Of course, nobody knows for sure what happened that night Masoli was accused of stealing several items from the fraternity house except those who were involved, and Masoli didn't help his case by pleading guilty to second degree burglary, but take a few minutes to read the story. It's a bit lengthy, but it's well worth the read if you have a few minutes.
College coaches are constantly bashed for what many perceive as leniency, especially when a star athlete screws up. The perception is that they're given preferential treatment and while that may be so in some cases (although likely not as much as in the past thanks to the high-powered microscope that programs and coaches are under these days thanks to the Internet), many are acting in not only the best interest of the program, but the best interest of the individual as well. The quicker we are to turn our backs on those who mess up, the less likely that individual will be to correct their behavior and avoid similar slip-ups in the future.
Coaches walk a fine line of ensuring that it is understood that bad or criminal behavior will not be tolerated, while being sure to consider the individual circumstances, repeat offenses and other considerations on a case by case basis so as not to toss an otherwise responsible, good individual under the bus.
There are so many people who wouldn't be where we are today if somebody wasn't willing to give them at least a second chance. Take Cam Newton. Cam Newton's second chance has him vying for a national championship and Heisman Trophy. And he's not a bad kid, either. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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