GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A picture popped up on an Internet site late Monday afternoon. It purported to show the man many have been looking for standing in a queue outside the stadium where college football's national championship was scheduled to kick off a few hours later. By game time, it was rumored that the man was seen sitting in the University of Phoenix Stadium stands.
And when the game Auburn won over challenger Oregon ended, another photograph taken by Vasha Hunt of the Opelika-Auburn (Ala.) News was snapped showing Heisman trophy-winning Auburn quarterback Cam Newton embracing the same man in a throng of Auburn celebrants.
The man in those frames was said to be Cam Newton's father, Cecil, who sadly over the past few months has allowed himself to be reduced into a surreptitious figure shrouded in shame. He didn't even turn up at his son's first grand achievement this football season when Cam was honored in New York last month as the best football player in the country.
Cecil Newton Sr. should have showed his face Monday night, which must have been gleaming with pride for what his son had just accomplished. Cam accounted for over 300 yards offense and two touchdowns in helping lead Auburn to its first national football title in over half a century.
Cecil Newton Sr. should have taken a seat near his son at New York's Downtown Athletic Club in December, too, as the envelope was opened to reveal that Cam was the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.
Instead, the Newton patriarch tried to hide at Phoenix Stadium due to what Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said was a "mutually agreed upon" decision. The father last month recused himself from the Heisman festivities out of fear, he was reported to have said, of being a distraction in the bright lights illuminating the youngest of boys he and his wife reared.
NCAA sleuths late last year said the father attempted to sell his prodigious quarterback-playing son's services to another college football team before the son enrolled at Auburn. The investigation and conclusion cast the father, as well as the son, in a questionable light. In the aftermath, the father retreated to the darkness. He was castigated in writing and in spoken commentary as nothing more than a pimp for his own flesh and blood after allegedly asking Mississippi State for $180,000 if it wanted his progeny to play quarterback for it.
Cecil Newton Sr. is a preacher.
What Cecil Newton Sr. was accused of doing was, no doubt, unseemly. A friend of mine who was a head coach for a college basketball team once told me how it turned his stomach when parents of boys he recruited would stick out their hands for something more than a scholarship in return for their sons' services. But don't all parents look for what college or university can provide the most assistance to them when shopping for where to send their kids to get a bachelor's degree?
I don't hate the athletes and their parents so much anymore in this farcical operation called intercollegiate athletics where broadcast networks and athletic departments rake in gazillions of dollars a year off the sweat of compensated but unpaid servants like Cam Newton.
I hate the game. I hate that if Cam Newton sold his grass-stained No. 2 jersey from Monday night's game he'd be sanctioned by the NCAA if he foolishly returns to play next season. Yet, Auburn can sell replica Cam Newton championship jerseys until every thread of nylon is used up and not have to, or be expected to, set up a trust fund for the quarterback with a percentage of the proceeds from the sales.
I hate that Cam Newton got an atta-boy slap on the back for taking Auburn to the mountaintop and his school got a $21 million check. I hate that Cam Newton got a goody bag from the game's sponsors and his coach, Gene Chizik, got $600,000 in contract bonuses, and $1.1 million in bonus money for the season, for what Cam Newton did for him. Chizik's salary was already $2.1 million.
It is against that background that it is not a laughing matter to say that Cecil Newton Sr. asked for a lot less than his son's athletic talent was worth. $180,000? That was fiduciary irresponsibility.
But what maddened me specifically about the Cecil Newton Sr. and Cam Newton affair was that it succeeded in driving a wedge on a national stage between a father and his son who by all previous accounts had the kind of relationship we champion in this country yet deride the community from which the Newtons hail, the black community, for not possessing enough.
If you've heard the story once, you've heard it one thousand times. It's become a formulaic narrative. It's one of those to which those of us in sports media seem particularly drawn. It tells the story of a black football or a basketball player who is excelling in his sport despite having grown up in a single-parent household because his "biological," as Shaquille O'Neal once rapped, was some reprobate.
Cecil Newton Sr. may have made a poor decision, but he isn't some reprobate. He is the bishop for five small Pentecostal churches in Georgia, including Holy Zion Center of Deliverance in Newnan, Ga. He's a husband. He's been a dad who is present in his kids' lives. He and his wife Jackie reared Cam and their other children, including an older son who made it to the NFL, under one roof.
What is the NCAA or the Auburn athletic department to tell a parent, a man who is not a criminal, to stay away from his flesh and blood?