Ever since it was first reported in Nov. 2010 that former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was at the center of a pay-for-play scandal, the Tigers have had targets on their backs. Everyone outside the Loveliest Village wanted to see Gene Chizik's team taken down, and when that never happened, the blood-lust only increased. Overeager media members -- hey, Joe, Pete and Thayer -- were made to look foolish, and rival fans felt like Auburn got away with something big. The anger from both parties was understandable.
So since then, any time a story could be linked to the downfall of Auburn and the corruption in the program, it was. For Auburn folks, the frustration kept building as their program was continuously painted as the dirtiest in America. For non-Auburn fans, the insinuations were just taken as further proof that Auburn was as dirty as they believed. That's been the cycle since late 2010.
If you're an Auburn fan, and you're tired of everyone piling on the Tigers, Shaun Assael just did you a favor. Assael published a story for ESPN The Magazine Thursday, attempting to portray the Tigers as a program with a massive drug problem, and its leadership criminally negligent. Unfortunately for Assael, just about everyone not wearing a tinfoil hat almost immediately slammed his story as baseless. On Friday evening, Joel Erickson, Auburn beat writer for al.com, tore the report apart, piece by piece. A few of the highlights:
AL.com obtained a copy of a letter circulated to athletes by Joe Joe Petrone dated July 17, 2010, informing athletes of the state of Alabama's law that banned possession, outlining the state's penalties and warning athletes that synthetic marijuana is "often sold over the internet and in herbal stores." ESPN's story also outlines meetings led by former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to educate coaches and players about the drug.
After testing was implemented, athletes were offered counseling - because it was not banned, counseling sessions could not be mandatory - although several athletes skipped those sessions, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Mosley admitted to ESPN that he skipped a session set up by Malzahn after a meeting that Malzahn says centered around depression.
ESPN's original story indicated that Auburn did not communicate with the parents of Mosley and Kitchens, an assertion Jacobs disputed in his open letter and backed up by phone records released to AL.com Friday. Thirty calls were made from Auburn's coaching staff to Kimberly Harkness between May 1, 2010 and March 22, 2011, and more than 100 calls from Auburn's coaching staff to Harrison Mosley between May 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011.
This may just be wishful thinking, but Assael's poor attempt at painting Auburn as a corrupt, drug-riddled program, combined with Selena Roberts's dubious story published on Wednesday, could give the Tigers a break in the future. Rational fans and members of the media might not like Auburn, and they may still believe the Tigers got away with something in 2010. But they're also beginning to see just how ridiculous some of the allegations and insinuations hurled at the program really are. In the past, it's been easy to get away with that these types of reports because everyone wanted to believe them. But now, so many have been beaten down and proven inaccurate, a writer could take a serious hit to their reputation if they decided to write an Auburn story that couldn't be corroborated.
Yes, Auburn will still catch heat, but the latest round should actually result in a cut back on the volume. Unless someone gets concrete evidence on the Tigers, writing a sloppy hit piece is too much of a risk to a writer's reputation.
So thanks, Shaun, you being bad at your job is really helping us out.