Selena Roberts' blockbuster story on Auburn football has raised a bit of controversy, and for good reason. It's a wide-reaching story with both on-field implications - if Auburn did commit all the violations the story says they did - and more importantly, off-field ones - if Auburn's allegedly racist football environment helped lead Mike McNeil to a potential prison sentence.
The problem is, many people in the story deny it - even those who Roberts quoted.
For starters, here's a list of people who have issued denials:
- Police chief Tommy Dawson: Featuring relatively detailed arguments against specific points in the story. Dawson is on leave from the police force as he deals with Parkinson's disease.
- Former head coach Gene Chizik: In a very lengthy statement that addresses just about every claim in the story, Chizik says, "Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts' story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic. It is noteworthy that the story comes just days before a player mentioned most prominently in the article is set to go to trial for felony armed robbery." Athletic director Jay Jacobs also chimes in.
- Former defensive back Neiko Thorpe, who was quoted as indicating Auburn recruits were given impermissible treatment:
- Former safety Daren Bates, quoted as ... well, as saying McNeil's a good guy:
- Former defensive end Mike Blanc, quoted as indicating Auburn changed grades:
- Former running back Michael Dyer, who allegedly had a failing grade changed: Dyer's uncle denied the parts of the story Dyer was involved with for him.
- Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp: "Totally deny [McNeil's claim of handing over $400]. I don't know where this is coming from."
- Former Alabama corner Dre Kirkpatrick, allegedly given $500 during his Auburn visit:
- Former defensive end Antoine Carter, who was quoted as describing being targeted by racist police:
While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike I have just read her article & not only am I misquoted but my words are very out of (1/2)— Neiko Thorpe (@Neiko15) April 4, 2013
context. We didn't talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I'm proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me (2/2)— Neiko Thorpe (@Neiko15) April 4, 2013
Didn't know sayin a former teammate of mine was a good one was so bad?! Smh— Daren Bates (@TuFive_Back) April 3, 2013
Man this article is outrageous and isn't true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad— Mike Blanc (@MikeBlanc93) April 3, 2013
Former Alabama DB Dre Kirkpatrick said that Auburn players spent little or no money on him during his recruiting visit.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 4, 2013
Please dont remix my words— Antoine Carter (@AC45AU) April 4, 2013
And here's who has yet to say anything:
- Mike McNeil, the main character in the story, who levies most of the allegations.
- Melodie Campbell, McNeil's mother.
- Clifton McNeil, McNeil's grandfather.
- Tommy Thigpen, McNeil's position coach, who is mentioned in passing once.
- Darvin Adams, who was allegedly offered cash to stay in school.
- Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens, who are awaiting trial. Mosley took his story to ESPN.
- Antonio Goodwin, who's serving 15 years for armed robbery. Goodwin is also quoted by ESPN.
- Capt. Corey Welch. The denial by Dawson indicates Welch was never on the Auburn police force, but that he serves in a role as an administrator.
- Ben Hand, McNeil's ex-attorney.
So, to summarize: McNeil, his family and legal counsel, people also implicated in the same robbery, and a couple others.
This doesn't mean that Roberts' story is wrong. After all, a lot of the people who have issued denials have something to lose from this story. And the majority of the denials relate to the issue of Auburn committing NCAA violations, not the more difficult-to-prove angle that the Auburn community perhaps contributed to a former player facing trial.
I think the best analysis of the story thus far comes from Tom Ley at Deadspin - that we're really dealing with two separate stories here lumped together by Roberts. One has led to somewhat meaningless denials by some people and a few would-be accusers backtracking on remarks. The other is still open for speculation. If the purpose of this story was to help Mike McNeil avoid being sentenced for a crime he allegedly didn't commit, the questions of the story's credibility created by people refuting the part about NCAA violations might keep it from accomplishing that goal.