Journalism Gone Wild: Breaking Down the Latest Auburn Scandal


By now, you are likely aware of seemingly destructive accusations against the Auburn Tigers football program.

Since Cam Newton led his Tigers to a 51-31 win over Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi, Auburn has faced controversy after controversy after controversy. From the Cam Newton pay-for-play scandal, to the HBO4 scandal, to the armed robbery, to the poisoning of the beloved Toomer’s Corner oak trees, Auburn fans have had to deal with a lot of scrutiny. There’s also the Varez Ward point-shaving scandal that made Yahoo! headlines before the basketball season was underway.

It’s been a lot of bad news for Auburn fans. Fortunately, all of the scandals that Auburn’s football program has faced have eventually crashed and burned, rather than costing the Tigers the national title that was 53 seasons in the making.

That is the way it is unfolding for the latest scandal.

Selena Roberts, a former Sports Illustrated and New York Times writer who was previously most famous for botching the Duke Blue Devils Lacrosse rape scandal and writing a very flawwed biography about Alex Rodriguez, released a report that threw lofty accusations at Gene Chizik and the Auburn football team.

This report begins with the sad tale of former safety Mike McNeil, who, at the time this is being written, is awaiting a verdict on his involvement in an armed robbery that occured after the 2010-2011 season. But then, the article takes a sharp and confusing turn.

Roberts lists multiple problems that apparently had occured under Gene Chizik at Auburn. This includes:

  • Paying players, whether it be in the recruiting process or if a player is having a bad day of practice.
  • Bribing players with money so that they would stay at the school instead of entering the NFL Draft.
  • Ignoring drug test results at a time when “over 40 players tested positive for drugs.”
  • Changing players’ grades so they could remain eligible. The report mentions that Micheal Dyer had his grade changed before the BCS National Championship Game against Oregon.
  • Being racist. The report claims that coaches pressured black players to cut off their dreadlocks. The report also claims coaches were against players having tattoos.
  • Crossing the $50 limit for hosting recruits. The report claims Auburn players spent $500 on recruit Dre Kirkpatrick, who would eventually become a star with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

These are serious allegations. What caused them to gain so much traction is that these things weren’t thought to have been quoted by Selena, but rather by former players other than Mike McNeil. In the report, former Tigers Mike Blanc, Neiko Thorpe, Antoine Carter and others all give some alarming quotes that would be very damaging to the program.

Players misquoted?

Here’s the problem: According to the players themselves, the article is a lie and the quotes are not theirs, but are instead fabricated by Roberts.

Neiko Thorpe tweeted: “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.”

Antoine Carter tweeted: “Please don’t remix my words.” He added, “I Believe in Auburn and Love It #WDE.”

Mike Blanc tweeted: “Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true. The media will do anything for a juicy story.” Blanc went into further detail in an interview with AuburnSports.com.

That isn’t the only thing working against Roberts’ controversial blog.

Michael Dyer ineligible?

The report claims that multiple Auburn players had their grades changed before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game win over Oregon. The most notable player to allegedly have his grade changed was RB Michael Dyer, who was the offensive MVP of the Tigers’ 22-19 win over the Ducks.

If there was proof Dyer’s grades were changed, he would have been ineligible for the title game and Auburn would have to vacate the national title, which would mean Auburn’s only national title is still 1957.

But seeing as every player in the report outside of Mike McNeil has denied the allegations, the legitimacy of the report has taken a hit, and with that, the claim of Dyer’s ineligibility has also taken a hit.

Dyer’s uncle, Andre, said that, according to Michael, he was “never even close” to being academically ineligible. Dyer made the Dean’s List at Arkansas Baptist this past school year.

Andre’s statement was given validity by an ESPN report that stated: “In the fall of 2010, Michael Dyer passed 15 hours of coursework.” Only 6 hours are required to remain eligible. It looks like Michael Dyer was eligible for that game, after all.

Other plot holes?

According to the story, an Auburn player spent $500 on potential recruit Dre Kirkpatrick, who went on to a big career at Alabama and now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals. However, Kirkpatrick, even though he played for Auburn’s biggest rival, didn’t hesitate to refute Roberts’ claims in the report.

“Nobody gave me any money, and nobody spent any money on me that I know of,” said Kirkpatrick. “I don’t know what they would have spent it on. We went to a party, but nobody was paying to get in there. We just walked in like everybody else seemed to be doing.”

The report also claims that former defensive coordinator and current Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp paid McNeil $400 in 2007 as the result of a bad practice. Will Muschamp has directly denied the allegation and having a role in any scandal.

Another hole in the plot is the claim of racism. One of the quotes in the story talked about racism from Auburn’s coaches. That makes almost zero sense, seeing as Auburn had an even mix of white and black coaches. The report claims that coaches pressured Auburn players into cutting off their dreadlocks just for racist reasons. One of Chizik’s assistant coaches once filed a suit against the Auburn  Schools because his son was told he couldn’t have dreadlocks by a coach.

What does Gene Chizik have to say?

Needless to say, former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik was not amused by the report, in the slightest. In fact, he was angry in a statement he released regarding the situation:

During my tenure at Auburn, the NCAA conducted a multi-year investigation into the Auburn football program that they called “fair and thorough.” The NCAA focused intently on widespread accusations about Auburn players being paid and other alleged recruiting violations. The NCAA rejected “rampant public speculation online and in the media.” Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same. It once again portrays Auburn University, current and former coaches, professors, fans, supporters and community officials in a false light.

Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic. It is noteworthy that the story comes just days before a player mentioned most prominently in the article is set to go to trial for felony armed robbery. The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance. During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment to any student-athlete. Likewise, I am not aware of any alleged grade change or illegal payment by any member of my coaching staff, support staff or anyone else.

As for logic, the notion that the conduct inferred by Ms. Roberts was occurring under the NCAA’s nose, at the very same time the NCAA is conducting its thorough investigation, lacks merit. Further, the notion that there was ever an attempt to sabotage any Auburn student-athlete’s attempt to play professional football is outrageous. Auburn’s success in transitioning student-athletes to the NFL benefits both the student-athlete and the Auburn program.

I remain part of the Auburn family and take these attacks on myself, the University and community seriously. During my time at Auburn, the administrators, professors and academic staff were of the highest integrity. Additionally, the inference that there was academic support staff that worked together with professors to change grades is absurd. As an Auburn resident, I take great pride in the quality and integrity of our police department. They enforce the law equally and fairly and my dealings with police Chief Tommy Dawson and his staff have been nothing short of excellent. He has handled many high profile cases with the upmost integrity and professionalism. To imply anything otherwise is simply wrong.

If there is a sad truth here, it is that there are no repercussions for bloggers who blast our widespread, venomous allegations and inferences is such an irresponsible manner. To make bold and outrageous conclusions on such thin support is a travesty.

During my tenure as Auburn’s head coach, we kept the well-being of our student-athletes at the forefront of every decision. We ran our program with the highest level of integrity and accountability. Period. I make absolutely no apologies for that. I stand firm in my statements, my support of Auburn University, its student-athletes (present and former), faculty, staff and community officials. As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails.

How has Selena Roberts conducted herself as a journalist?

Even though I have yet to attend a single journalism class at Auburn, I can easily see that Selana Roberts has done a poor job of behaving herself for a so-called “professional.”

Seriously, some of her claims are ridiculous. She says she has tapes of the conversations, but she doesn’t feel the need to share them. Also, she wrote this dandy about Jeff Burger years back… I have no comment on how mind-numbingly dumb that read was.

She’s been wrong on several big stories in the past. If it does turn out her claims and quotes are unsubstantiated, she will never be taken seriously as a journalist again, and it’s nobody’s fault but her own.

So what does this report mean for Auburn?

Well, I don’t think “report” is an accurate word. Selena Roberts has a history of false journalism. The website this story was published on isn’t Sports Illustrated or the New York Times. It was a blog. A controversial blogger who has been accused of twisting words and a bitter ex-player shouldn’t keep Auburn fans awake at night.

It’s bad P.R. for Auburn. The real damage isn’t any NCAA investigation. It’s just the fact that people believe the story.

As far as you should be concerned, the 2010 BCS Championship Trophy isn’t going anywhere.

 

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Tags: Auburn Football