As a recovering journalist and corporate spokesman currently attending graduate school while on professional hiatus, I have turned my tongue into Swiss cheese watching Auburn gyrate its way through the Newton incident. There were answers I hated hearing as a reporter or giving as a PR rep than "no comment". It's like a vegetarian Thanksgiving; something is missing, but everyone pretends that it isn't and that they are better for the missing piece. Since no one else will do it, I'll designate myself the school's communication point man on this issue in calling the news conference that has yet to be held:
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I appreciate your time and will not waste it. Over the past few weeks, a lot of has been said about this institution, the football program, Cam Newton and his family, the coaching staff, and the state of college athletics in general. Almost all of it has been based in rumors and allegations, speculation and inuendo. Today, I offer you the facts of this case, limited as they are.
If you take issue with this list, I'll stand here and answer your questions until each of you is fully satisfied with the response. If new facts emerge or if the circumstances surrounding known facts change, I will do the same thing. I will not, however, put Coach Chizik, Cameron, or any other player in that spot. They have already told you what they know or don't know; they will talk football with anyone who wants to listen, but they will not be discussing this.
Fact 1: neither the Southeastern Conference nor the NCAA has accused or implicated Auburn University of any wrongdoing in the recruiting of Cameron Newton.
Fact 2: mutliple other coaches - Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and Lane Kiffin while at Tennessee come to mind - have likewise said that there nothing unusual or illegal occured during their recruiting of Cameron Newton.
Fact 3: there has been one and only one institution with which the issue of money is said to have been raised.
Fact 4: that institution neither offered money during the recruiting of Cameron Newton nor paid any.
Fact 5: there is no evidence to date that any institution was, in fact, solicited during the recruiting of Cameron Newton.
Fact 6: the lone individual who has suggested that Cecil Newton sought money in return for his son signing a letter of intent is Kenny Rogers.
Fact 7: Rogers' story has had some inconsistencies and he has no proof of any sort that Cecil Newton sought money from Mississippi State or from any other institution.
Fact 8: every story has been based on the word of unnamed accusers who effectively inoculate themselves from cross-examination. Aside from Rogers, there is not a single person who has gone on the record to connect Cecil Newton with talk of money during Cameron Newton's recruitment. John Bond and Bill Bell have been interviewed, but neither offers more than second- or third-hand information, and Bond's story has changed.
Fact 9: the NCAA believes something wrong was done, yet its ruling hints at a lack of clarity as to what did or did not happen. The organization cannot definitely state whether Cecil Newton asked for money, if Kenny Rogers offered money, or some combination of those two possibilities occured and no one else has been able to, either.
Ladies and gentlemen, those are the indisputable facts as we know them. The rest of the talk is about the alleged presence of a smoking gun despite the concrete absence of a body. Maybe something did happen, maybe it didn't. The NCAA believes the former, yet even the organization's own announcement indicates some uncertainty. When two individuals are offering diametrically opposing accounts, it is not likely that both accounts are true. This isn't a movie with a subjective plot line. Money either was or was not discussed. Cecil Newton either did or did not solicit funds. Kenny Rogers either did or did not offer them. But thus far, no one has been able to separate the either from the or. Both Auburn and Mississippi State have chosen to separate themselves from the principals in this case.
I cannot control what you write nor do I want to. I believe in the First Amendment and freedom of the press, but just as strongly believe in the presumption of innocence. I believe Cameron is owed that and it is clear that the University has earned it. If you have facts that contradict anything that you have heard today, please bring them forward and, as previously stated, I will answer questions until each of you is satisfied with the response. If my accounting of the facts is in error, please point out where and I will make the appropriate correction.
It is a shame that what we have witnessed on the football field these past several weeks cannot simply be enjoyed on its own merit. Not just the skills that Cameron Newton has or the work that goes into cultivating them, but rather, the sheer unadulterated joy this young man brings to football. When was the last time any of you saw a player of his magnitude having so much fun playing this game? Now, what questions do you have for me?
This probably would not make the story go away, certainly not with Auburn headed to a national title game and the attendant media hoopla. But, it is a start and it is major step forward from no comment and from terse statements that certain questions will not be asked. Frankly, it is not a kid's job to say such things; that is what media/public relations folks do. There is nothing wrong with setting the tone for interviews or establishing certain ground rules. "You can ask all the non-football questions you want, but each will produce a version of the same answer - I cannot answer that, I don't know the answer to that, I am not going to discuss that. The media are going to ask the questions they want to ask and tell the stories they want to tell; the task on this side of the microphone is to effect conditions to the extent possible and tell the truth afterward.