“I don’t even know what kind of question would make me say that,” Neiko Thorpe reportedly said Wednesday, after he reportedly said, “Auburn does whatever Auburn wants.”
Antoine Carter tweeted, “Please don’t remix my words.”
Said Mike Blanc: “None of that stuff she said I said was true.”
“She” is Selena Roberts, a well-respected journalist with the New York Times and Sports Illustrated on her resume and who penned Wednesday’s piece entitled “Auburn’s Tainted Title; Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory.”
Roberts wrote the story for Roopstigo.com, and the piece packs allegations into a narrative about Mike McNeil, the former Auburn safety who is about to go on trial for charges related to a March 11, 2011, armed robbery.
The story raises lots of interesting questions, like did Auburn really change grades to keep players eligible for the BCS Championship Game? Did Auburn really offer former wide receiver Darvin Adams financial incentives to come back for his senior year, which he didn’t do?
But like so many allegation pieces that have come Auburn’s way in recent years — who remembers the “HBO Four” from two years ago? — it’s hearsay. Some quoted ex-players have condemned the story.
“While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike, I have just read her article,” Thorpe said on Twitter. “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.”
At least half of the Selena Six don’t sound likely to sing to the NCAA, so here’s another story that alleges wrongdoing at Auburn that doesn’t seem likely to produce real consequences for Auburn.
Roberts’ piece might be helpful for McNeil’s new defense attorney. It paints a picture of an innocent McNeil, who wound up with the wrong people at the wrong time.
The piece paints a picture of Auburn’s coaching staff quickly dismissing and quarantining McNeil, threatening to yank scholarships from players who so much as communicate with him.
McNeil’s grandfather speculates on Auburn’s motives, but his suggestion that Auburn might have wanted to silence McNeil about “family secret” is hard to believe. Wouldn’t an aggrieved Mike McNeil be more likely to talk?
He did in the Roberts piece, alleging “there are players on the payroll.” He said one of his grades, an F, was changed to a C before Auburn’s 2010 national championship season, after he alerted a counselor in the athletics department.
Among other things, McNeil also said former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, now Florida’s head coach, gave him $400 in 2007. Florida denied the claim.
Such accusations, if proved, are potentially more consequential than any “renegade” rap Auburn might have had for a run of off-field headlines. No school or coach wants to be stripped of a title and, perhaps, forefeit millions of dollars.
If McNeil knows a damning “family secret,” then surely former Auburn coach Gene Chizik wouldn’t want the player to feel abandoned.
McNeil has steadfastly maintained he’s innocent in the armed robbery case, and a jury ultimately could agree. If so, then Chizik reacted too harshly and too quickly in dismissing him and cutting off contact from the football program.
That would be a shame, because accusation does not equal guilt.
The same can be said for the latest piece alleging wrongdoing with Auburn football. Absent proof and players willing to give the NCAA what it needs to penalize Auburn, the story leads where so many others led — nowhere.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.