2010 was a banner year for controversy in the world of sports media. From the usual barrage of accidental profanity, to the fairly untrodden territory of Twitter faux pas, up to and including the cultural phenomenon that was athletes taking pictures of their penises and sending them to everybody, this year really did have it all if you enjoyed watching people make fools of themselves.
From now until December 30th we’ll be going through our favorite oopsies from the year that was. So come and join us, won’t you, as we count down the Top Ten Sports Media Gaffes of the Year! Today’s gaffe: the Cam Newton saga turns media types against one another.
Few people were better at creating media firestorms this year than Auburn’s sensational, Heisman-winning quarterback, Cam Newton. If he wasn’t turning heads with his play – and his play turned a lot of heads – then he was igniting controversies about the state of his eligibility to play college football, thanks to pesky rumors that Newton’s father sought big bucks in return for his son’s commitment.
And just as fans fiercely divide themselves along school lines, it seemed Newton’s emergence caused a schism among those who covered him. Some columnists (unsuccessfully, of course), waged an anti-Heisman campaign for Newton. Others thought such columns – coupled with that same reporter’s other work on the same subject – amounted to simply “coming down on Newton like a condemned building.” But in reality, this controversy brought out the best in neither side.
Fox Sports’ Thayer Evans, for example, as we talked about at the time, wrote those two stories we linked above: first, that column, urging Heisman voters to ignore Newton; then, the story breaking the news of his reported academic cheating at Florida. Left unanswered were: 1) if Evans was really the best person to be writing a straight news piece on Newton after being so critical of him, and 2) whether these reports about cheating at Florida truly matter at this point, since Newton’s not at Florida anymore.
And plenty of Heisman voters heeded Evans’ wishes and left him off their Heisman ballots entirely, though it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent him from winning the award. But was leaving him off the ballot really the right move? After all, he was clearly the best player, the NCAA said he was eligible, and if you’re going to take a drastic step like leave him off your ballot, you’d best be able to prove everyone on your ballot – and really, everyone who’s ever been on your ballot – is squeaky clean. That’s not easy.
And what about the pro-Newton media camp? Well, one of the loudest voices in that camp was (per usual) Gregg Doyel of CBS. He led the charge against Evans and others he felt were smearing Newton – but did it too eagerly. For example, he almost immediately accused then-Florida coach Urban Meyer of being behind the leak that led to Evans’ report exposing Newton’s cheating at Florida, before later saying he had “no idea if Urban Meyer was behind it.”
Later, Doyel admitted in a blog post that he’d also been too quick to judge Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen – Mississippi State, of course, being the school we know Newton’s father tried to shake down. Think it might be best for Doyel to stay away from commenting on breaking news and giving himself some time to gather his thoughts instead?
The end result, of course, was unchanged in the face of all this bickering – Newton won the Heisman, and in a little under two weeks, he’s going to play for the national championship. And somehow, along the way, despite there being so much smoke surrounding his recruitment, despite the NCAA ruling that, at some point, “a violation of amateurism rules occurred” re: Newton, the people who came out of all this looking the worst were (besides Cam Newton’s father)…journalists.