Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cinderella's Black Eye

Anyone who spends more than about two minutes with me knows that I like college football. To say I like college football is like saying Imelda Marcos likes shoes. (Actually, I like shoes about as much as she does, but that's a topic for another day!) College football is one of my grand passions of life, and most days, I can concentrate on what makes college football so great -- the traditions, the deep family connections, the passionate arguments over rankings and bowl games -- but occasionally the downside of college football  pokes through, and tarnishes everything else.

As an Auburn alumna, I am heartbroken at the allegations surrounding Cam Newton. I'm not naive enough to think that pay-for-play things don't happen in big-time college football, but I just have my doubts about this story. The more that comes out, the more it seems like this scheme to pay Cam's dad for him to go to Mississippi State amounts to nothing more than some conversations about floating some possibilities for some money to change hands. And the characters who are at the heart of these allegations are shady, to say the least. They have a history of this kind of activity, and the fact that these guys blew the whistle tells me they are angry that they didn't get a payoff, now that Cam is set to win the Heisman and the national title. Sounds like revenge and sour grapes to me. Nobody is saying that anyone ever got paid, and seems a moot point since Cam didn't go to MSU. No one has said anything about Auburn being involved in all of this, and if Auburn has known about this story since January, I feel certain that the school investigated it and found nothing to warrant not allowing Cam to come to school at Auburn or play football. I've joked that if I were in Cam's shoes, you'd HAVE to pay me to go to Mississippi State! I've been to Starkville, and it is the most appropriately named town in America. Nice campus, but as someone said, "there's no there there." And their football program is second tier in the SEC.

Seriously, though, Auburn coach Gene Chizik would have to be stupid to knowingly play an ineligible athlete. His contract has a clause in it that states he can be terminated if found that he violated any NCAA rules regarding recruiting. Auburn has been on probation before, and faces serious sanctions if they are caught violating NCAA rules again. Seems to me that by including that clause in Chizik's contract, AU administrators are trying to insure that coaches know they have to toe the line. All the way up to the beginning of this season, Cam was an unknown commodity and Chizik was still trying to win over AU fans who weren't sure he was the man for the job (including me).

I don't want to think ill of Cam's father. He is a pastor of a small church in Newnan, GA, and by all accounts has a sterling reputation. I hope he is exonerated, because as a Christian, I don't want to see another stain on the family of God.

Granted, Cam has had some problems in his past, but who hasn't? The stolen laptop fiasco was not his brightest moment, as he has said. I watched the interview with him about it, and knew what he meant when he said he "never wanted to see that look in (his) mother's eyes ever again." As for the cheating allegations at UF (don't get me started about the swamp's involvement in this), while I never condone cheating, nothing he supposedly did is anything I don't deal with every year with high schoolers. Academic records are supposed to be sealed, and no one has ever said he was expelled from UF (although I can't think of a place I'd rather be expelled from!) Again, if there was a question about his academic eligibility, I'm sure Auburn looked into it and found nothing of concern.

The bottom line is, I think most of this story is just an effort to tear down a kid who has the potential to be one of the greatest to ever play the game I've been around college football most of my life, and I've seen enough of the recruiting game to know that conversations about money are not uncommon. I'm amazed at how quickly so many people are jumping to conclusions, throwing out the "where-there's-smoke-there's-fire" cliche, and assuming that AU has done something wrong. I've heard the haters say that AU ought to bench Cam or even that the NCAA ought to give Auburn's football program the death penalty, all without a shred of real evidence of any wrongdoing, and absolutely none concerning Auburn.

I hate that my alma mater is having to go through this fabulous Cinderella season with a black eye. It was hard in 1993 when we went undefeated and didn't get to play for the title because we were on probation. I was livid in 2004 when we also went undefeated and were denied a spot in the BCS title game because the BCS voters thought  a one-loss Oklahoma team was more worthy of playing USC (and got blown out, by the way). I thought this year that finally, we would get our shot, win the title, see our QB win the Heisman, and all would be right with the world. I just want to go back to the simplicity of waving shakers, yelling "WAR EAGLE!" and rolling Toomer's Corner without all this other mess.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Semi-magnificent obsessions...

I have a strange type of obsessive personality. From time to time, I stumble across some event in history (usually as a result of a movie) and I then set off in pursuit of learning everything I can. In the past, this obsession has led me to become somewhat of an expert on baseball, hockey, the Plains Indians, NASA, and most recently, English history, specifically of the Tudors and Stuarts. I used to camp out at libraries for hours on end, or go to historical spots (don't even ask about all the trips to Cape Canaveral), but the internet has made my obsessions much more accessible. I don't even have to get dressed, much less go to England!

But how is it that 99% of history teachers make history class about as exciting as a root canal? I've often said that if I ever get tired of teaching English, I want to switch and become a history teacher. As it is, I love teaching literature through a historical lens. Novels, poems, and plays aren't created in a vacuum -- they are influced by and reflect what is going on at the time they are being written. Somehow in my education, I never learned much about English history. I knew about King James and his Bible, heard about King George being the target of American revolutionaries, and -- thanks to my antique-loving mother -- knew about Victorian furniture and Queen Anne chairs. But the ins and outs of English history were mostly unknown to me for most of my life.

I think the 1988 movie Elizabeth started this obsession, and continued through others, such as Shakespeare in Love, plus reading books like Phillippa Gregory's. Her novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, was fabulous, and then turned into a terrible movie. (Natalie Portman was a horrendous choice as Anne Boleyn!) Actually going to Scotland only made my obsession worse. I wandered around Edinbugh castle with this open-mouthed goofy grin on my face, hardly believing I was in a place, parts of which were more than a thousand years old. In the US, it seems we consider things old and obsolete within days.

Anyway, one of the many things I love about teaching is that I get to help my students learn how to read literature with an understanding of how literature reveals history and points us toward the future. The theme of my 12th grade British Literature class is that human nature never changes. That's why stories and poems written a thousand years ago still speak to us today. An average kid in urban Florida still has the same hopes and desires as the richest king of England ever did. The politics of Tea Parties and Obamacare have nothing on the plots and subversions of the English court.

Someone much more famous than I (George Santyana, I believe) said that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Very true, but I would put forth that those who do not learn to appreciate history are doomed to live a shallow life, void of understanding and perspective.

Time to take the plunge

Back in the day when I was a reporter for a living, my favorite part was writing columns. Rather than writing about city council meetings, murder trials, or high school basketball games, I could write about whatever struck my fancy. I've been told by everyone from my mother to my journalism professors that I have a gift for writing, but I haven't really felt the urge to bloviate my opinions in print in a long time. I get to do that live to a captive audience for six hours a day in my classroom!

I've been urged repeatedly to jump into the blogosphere, but I wasn't sure I had much to say. Not that a lack of interesting topics seems to stop a lot of bloggers, mind you! But I do tend to comment on websites and Facebook, so I thought, why not? Why not indulge myself a little and spout of my myriad opinions? Have no idea whether anyone else will care to read them, but we shall see.

Thanks for reading thus far, and here's to having some fun on this ride called life!