As we inch, ever so slowly, closer to the national championship football game between Auburn and Oregon, I can’t help but think of Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton. I can honestly say that he is one of the most talented athletes ever to play the game. I also have no problem saying he probably doesn’t deserve to be playing in this game.
I know people might think I’m too cynical for saying such a thing, but in a situation like this I would like to think I’m being very realistic. For all of those who question my thinking, let me take you though my personal history with professional and collegiate athletes.
You see I used to worship these guys, like I’m sure most of us did when we were eight years old. The walls of my room were literally covered with posters that I got out of issues of Sports Illustrated for Kids. I thought every single one of those guys I read about in that magazine walked on water — well, except for Kordell Stewart.
For the longest time I had this idea that athletes could do no wrong. I thought all of them were honest men that would never cheat on their wives, smoke marijuana or choke their coaches. Boy, did they dupe me.
I think the scandal that rocked my adolescence more than any other was the rampant steroid usage in baseball. I remember being perpetually glued to the TV in the summer of 1998, watching as Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire chased the home run record. This was when my love for baseball truly blossomed.
So a few years later when Jose Canseco said a majority of MLB players were using steroids, I thought he was crazy. It was just his way of trying to make money on his new book. Nothing more than a publicity stunt. Slowly but surely, we all started to realize that Jose wasn’t bluffing and a good number of ball players were juicing. I didn’t want to admit it, but my heroes were starting to prove me wrong.
For the next few years, the sports world would start to experience many more scandals that would follow the same framework of their steroidal predecessor. An athlete would be accused of something, the general public would dismiss it as a rumor and then, in due time, the truth would come out. A few examples include Reggie Bush getting paid, Michael Vick killing dogs and Michael Jordan making Space Jam for the sole purpose of paying off his gambling debts. (That last one might be questionable, but not totally absurd.)
The most recent example would be Tiger Woods. When things started to unravel for the world’s greatest golfer, a lot of us defended Tiger, saying all these accusations of infidelity were just tabloid fodder. Sure enough, the original reports were closer to the truth than we thought.
So earlier this year when Cam Newton was accused of accepting money to play at Auburn, I didn’t even question it. In all reality, when asked about the situation he never actually denied any wrongdoing. He just glazed over the question with poorly worded sports cliches.
It’s sad that I’ve come to this point — where I assume that famous athletes are guilty until proven innocent — but that’s just the reality of the situation. I’ve been fooled many times before and I refuse to be fooled again.
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