As soon as I saw the story, I knew the questions would come. What is true? What isn’t? Does this mean trouble for Auburn?
That Auburn graduate Selena Roberts’ would write hit a piece on Auburn athletics comes as no surprise. She’s done it before, and more than once. Ms. Roberts seems to have a real disdain for the inner workings of college athletics in general and Auburn in particular. But, really, that doesn’t matter. What matters is what she wrote.
In a very, very long piece, she wrote about the Auburn players who were charged in 2011 with armed robbery and specifically about Mike McNeil, who is scheduled to go on trial Thursday. Her piece was extremely sympathetic to McNeil and his family, and that’s not hard to understand. Clifton McNeil, Mike's grandfather, is one of the nicer men I’ve met. Mike was highly respected by his teammates.
Anyway, Ms. Roberts went from there to writing about Auburn players supposedly claiming to have been given money and about accusations that former coach Gene Chizik treated African-American players differently, didn’t like players with dreadlocks or tattoos and even tried to hurt players’ standings in the NFL draft.
Most of those players to whom she attributed those statements have already said, either via Twitter or in interviews, that were misquoted or were taken out of context or both.
Neiko Thorpe was particularly strong in his Tweet:
“While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike I have just read her article & not only am I misquoted but my words are very out of context. We didn't talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I'm proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me.”
I’m not going to accuse anyone of lying on either side, but I do have some thoughts:
* What in the world do dreadlocks or tattoos or drug tests or even alleged cash payments have to do with whether McNeil is guilty of armed robbery? I’m not sure I get that. Either he did it or he didn’t. I hope he didn’t, and if he didn’t, I pray he is acquitted.
* If Mike Blanc, Antoine Carter and Neiko Thorpe were unhappy in their time at Auburn, they did one heck of a job of disguising it. It’s hard to see why Darvin Adams, who had been essentially discarded by the previous staff, would have any hard feelings toward Chizik and his staff. They made him a star.
* To supposedly have a problem with dreadlocks and tattoos, Chizik sure did have a lot of players with dreadlocks and tattoos. He even had an assistant coach who filed a lawsuit against the Auburn City Schools because a coach told his son he couldn’t have dreadlocks.
* College football coaches love to tell recruits about players they’ve sent to the NFL. Why would they try to stop players from being drafted?
It’s remarkable, really, what Auburn athletics has been through since November 2010. It has emerged unscathed every time, but its reputation has taken a hit and takes a hit every time there’s another accusation. Why Auburn? I truly don’t know.
So where will this episode go for Auburn? No one can say for sure, but at this point it doesn’t look all that ominous or threatening to me.