When it comes to another man's character, I am certainly prepared to believe the worst.
I can doubt with anyone, and I can scoff with most. When you work in a world of raised eyebrows, when you see all the cheating programs with dirty coaches and lying athletes, disbelief comes easily. At night, I keep my skepticism inside a large jar of cynicism.
And so, like everyone else it seems, I am prepared to judge Cam Newton, the Auburn quarterback who is suddenly running through a pack of wolves with hamburger underwear. I am ready to rip the Heisman Trophy from his fingers. I am prepared to drive him from his sport. I am willing to change his legacy forever. I am willing to light the torches and join the mob.
All I need is a little, you know, proof.
And a bit of, well, evidence.
If there is a witness or two, I'd like to hear about that, too.
What we have now are accusations. What we have now is innuendo. What we have now are rumors and gossip and hearsay. We have dueling unnamed sources and jilted programs. What we have is smoke, and a lot of fans who are prepared to inhale.
What we have now, frankly, is not enough.
Never has there been so many charges, and so much judgment, with so little to back it up. At this point, it is impossible to tell whether to feel anger at Newton or sympathy for him.
By now, you have heard all of the various parts of the story. A former Mississippi State quarterback has said he heard that Newton was a quarterback for hire, a player who wanted $180,000 to play for the Bulldogs. Some unidentified sources say that back when Newton was at the University of Florida, Newton cheated on tests, and some say he did not.
ESPN says that unnamed "recruiters" — an odd identification, since only coaches can recruit and identifying an accuser as a coach is certainly stronger than identifying him as a recruiter — overheard Newton and his father admit his choice of colleges was about money.
So how much of this is true? All of it? Some of it? None of it?
The point is, none of us knows. And until we do, it's absurd to act as if we do.
Put it this way: If I had a Heisman Trophy vote, yes, I would vote for Newton. And if you had a Heisman vote and dropped your ballot, I would pick it up and vote for him again. I would vote for him without regret, without remorse, and without charging anyone $180,000.
And if it turns out Newton was guilty, I would strip him of his trophy and erase his images from Auburn's highlight film.
Full disclosure here: I graduated from Auburn. On the other hand, I've chastised Auburn pretty harshly for its cheating before, and I will do it again. And frankly, I've covered a lot more Florida games than Auburn games in my life. This isn't about diplomas. This is about decency.
Also, it should be about common sense.
Look, this is the Heisman we're talking about here. It isn't the Nobel Peace prize. You're telling me the nation is all aflutter over whether Newton has enough integrity to win the same award they gave to O.J. Simpson? And Billy Cannon? And George Rogers? And Ricky Williams?
Think of it like this. If Newton doesn't win the award, Oregon's LaMichael James probably will. In February, James was arrested on domestic violence charges (he pleaded to physical harassment and received 24 months probation). Yeah, that's much better. And yet, no one seems to be howling about James' candidacy, are they?
Like everyone else, I'd like to have some answers. I'd like to hear what investigators found out about a money trail. I'd like to hear whether other schools that recruited Newton were asked for money (Oklahoma's Bob Stoops said there was nothing irregular involving Newton, and remarkably, he said it on the record).
I'd like to hear why Mississippi State continued to recruit Newton even after it rejected the idea of paying him. I'd like to know who was leaking what about Newton's academics, since it's as illegal as taking a payoff. While we're at it, I'd like to hear why a guy seeking a payout ends up in former Mississippi State quarterback and booster John Bond's presence in the first place.
Most of all, this is about one thing. Did Newton get a payoff or not? It doesn't matter where Newton used to play or where he almost played. It doesn't matter that Auburn cheated under other coaches (for that matter, so did Florida). It doesn't matter that Reggie Bush turned out to be a cheater all along.
Do accusations about academic cheating matter? Sure, if they're true, they matter some. Everything does. But that was three years and two colleges ago, and Newton wasn't dismissed from school over it. If it didn't matter then, why should it matter now? Put it this way: If not for the money charge, the grades charge wouldn't have made much of a ripple.
Nope. The charge here is that Newton had his hand out. That he cheated. That he lied.
Prove that, and I'll disapprove of Newton as much as you do.
Short of that proof — and we are miles short of it so far — I still would vote for Newton.