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By Shawn Muller-
(CBS) Sometimes it seems like there are people out there that—no matter what they “supposedly” do wrong—they always seem to come out smelling like roses. On the flip side, there are others who—no matter what they “supposedly” do wrong—they are looked at in the worst possible light.
No two players trying to make their NFL dreams come true this season epitomize these polar ends of the spectrum more than Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
One of the biggest concerns NFL teams have about prospects heading into the draft is whether or not a prospect has “character issues”. If a team finds alarming character traits, it could mean the difference between being a first round pick or falling to the later rounds and taking a loss of millions of dollars.
For Cam Newton, his past transgressions didn’t matter one bit.
Under the influence of his father or not, Cam Newton was about as “shady” as they came in college football.
No one can deny that he is an ultra-talented guy, but it just amazes me how this kid has been able to avoid a negative public image after years of controversy surrounding him. His father, Cecil Newton, may be considered a preacher, but Cam is far from being the “choir boy” he seemingly has everyone believing that he is.
Newton began his college career at the University of Florida in 2007, where he was named the backup for Tim Tebow over current Gators starter John Brantley.
On November 21st, 2008, Newton was arrested for the alleged theft of a laptop computer from a fellow University of Florida student and was temporarily suspended from the Gator football team after it was discovered that the laptop was in his possession.
On top of the theft charges (later the charge was magically dropped, even though the laptop was found in his possession), Newton was also facing expulsion due to three separate instances of academic cheating, so he decided to leave the university rather than face any type of punishment.
So far, if you are keeping score at home, that is an arrest for theft, suspension from the Gator football team, and facing expulsion for academic cheating. Even Randy Moss would have been jealous of that track record.
After playing one season at Blinn College in 2009, Newton transferred to Auburn University for the 2010 season over his other two finalists: Mississippi State University and the University of Oklahoma.
While Newton garnered praise and adoration by many for his play with the Tigers on the football field, the quarterback once again found himself embroiled in controversy off of it. During the second half of the 2010 season, allegations began to swirl about his father trying to sell the services of his son to the highest bidding program. Mississippi State coach Kenny Rogers claimed that the elder Newton wanted “more than a scholarship” for his son to attend their university, and that the figure was “anywhere between $100,000 and $180,000”.
Auburn maintained their innocence throughout the investigation regarding any type of “pay-for-play” scheme. On December 1st, 2010, the NCAA announced that Newton would be declared ineligible to play in the SEC Championship game against South Carolina, after evidence surfaced that Cecil Newton did try to solicit money from Mississippi State in exchange for his son’s letter of intent.
In a strange twist of fate, Auburn appealed the NCAA ruling, and somehow, Newton was cleared to play in the conference title game. The NCAA said that the evidence against Newton was not sufficient enough for them to conclude that Cam or anyone from Auburn had any knowledge of Cecil Newton’s plans.
The rest, as they like to say, is history.
Cam Newton went on to help Auburn defeat South Carolina in the SEC Championship game, and a few weeks later, the Tigers won the national championship over the Oregon Ducks. Newton won the Heisman Trophy, and finally, he was selected No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers in the NFL Draft this past April.
Not bad for a guy with a whole lot of “baggage”, wouldn’t you say?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor.
Heading into the 2010 season, Pryor was garnering a lot of preseason hype after his performance in the Rose Bowl, where he threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 26-17 win over the Oregon Ducks. The Buckeyes were national title favorites, Pryor was getting a lot of Heisman talk, and one day, he too was looking at a bright future in the National Football League.
But things didn’t quite work out as planned for T.P.
In the weeks leading up to the Buckeyes’ Sugar Bowl matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks, Pryor and four of his teammates found out that they would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season as a punishment for selling memorabilia and autographs in exchange for cash and tattoos. Earlier this summer, Pryor had become the subject of a new NCAA investigation—separate from the punishment back in December — into him receiving cars and extra benefits.
With the NCAA heat coming hard after Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor, Pryor decided against staying in school and serving out his five-game suspension in favor of entering the NFL supplemental draft, and has since been banned from the Ohio State campus.
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a fan of either player, but I do know athletic ability when I see it, and both men are athletic freaks.
The problem I have is the adulation Newton receives and the vilification Pryor receives. Cam Newton was arrested for a crime, was about to be expelled from a school for cheating, and was allegedly involved (indirectly or not) in a pay-for-play scheme. He was never convicted for the laptop theft.
Must be nice to have a track record like that of Cam Newton’s and still be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Was the Terrelle Pryor situation really any worse than the Newton situation? Did he get arrested while at Ohio State? Was he facing expulsion for academic cheating? Was his father entrenched in a grand pay-for-play scheme?
No, no, and no.
Yet, Pryor is viewed by many as such a villain.
Did he break the rules? Yes, he absolutely did, and I am not saying what he did was right. But I am also a realist, and Pryor was not arrested for breaking the law. In fact, the transgressions he is accused of would be perfectly legit if it were you or I.
If Pryor selling memorabilia for money to help his family or to have a few extra bucks in his pocket was one of the worst things he did while on campus, I consider that to be pretty tame. He definitely isn’t the only current or former player who has. As far as the car situation is concerned, believe what you want, but the Nissan 300 he was seen driving to a team meeting did check out, so (legally) you can’t really say he did anything wrong on that end.
Two high-profile players, who played the same position, that were embedded in controversy while playing college football. One player has been able to make everything he touches turn to gold while the other is trying to find his way onto an NFL roster as a third round supplemental draft pick.
It really is crazy how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24. Read more of his blogs here.