Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Word on the Auburn Scandal: We're Focusing on the Wrong Things

Mike McNeil, 26, and Gene Chizki at an Auburn practice in 2009.
After reading Selena Roberts' piece on what may or may not have transpired at Auburn in 2010 and 2011, I think the reaction from most people have been misguided. Most of the focus I've seen has been on violations on whether or not players' grades were changed or if guys were paid.

When I read and re-read this story, my concern was for Mike McNeil and if his civil rights had been violated during his arrest for an alleged robbery and if Auburn had left him and his family out to dry considering the questionable evidence against him.

According to Roberts' piece, McNeil - whose trial starts on April 8 - was not read his Miranda rights and has pleaded innocent to all charges of armed robbery. The five witnesses who testified to being robbed have given conflicting stories on how many were involved. Yet for 14 hours, McNeil and four others were held in a holding cell or spoke to authorities while they were told their coaches would arrive for them.

It appears also that McNeil's car was used in the robbery. Three of the men - Dakota Mosley, Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin - confessed to their role and Goodwin was sentenced to 15 years. McNeil might have been a victim of poor judgment and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Those are facts. Now here are my concerns.

1) Why was McNeil's family not told directly by the police station or Auburn was happened to him? The night McNeil was arrested, his mother didn't hear from him for 12 hours. After calling the police station,   she and her family spent 4 hours - 3 on the road - trying to get answers and all they got was confusion until they saw an ESPN report their son was being arraigned and kicked off the team.

That's one quick process that I find suspect and there's no reason the family should've been left in the dark.

2) If none of the victims can place McNeil at the scene, then it appears we have some reasonable doubt to consider. If that's true, the fact Auburn has banned him from campus is another reason why colleges play judge and jury at the very sign of trouble, without considering the facts or person involved.

There's a very good possibility Mike McNeil could be sentenced for 20 years for a crime he didn't commit and law enforcement could've possibly illegally detained him without due process. But like I said, y'all want to care about who cheated and who took money instead of a bigger injustice.

3) Auburn's entire actions in this are troubling. Kicking McNeil and the others off the team is one thing, but they wouldn't allow McNeil to play football at a nearby college. The school apparently went out of their way to hamper his future after they cut him off and when the family tried to ask head coach Gene Chizik, they got no response.

THAT is a problem. When coaches sell kids a program, they sell them the idea of family and community. Even if McNeil was guilty or innocent, once you kick somebody out, you should wish them on their way or at least have their back depending on the circumstances involved. At least LSU let Tyronn Mathieu remain a student after kicking him off the team.

Forget the violations. It doesn't matter to me if guys were paid under the table. Academic fraud - as much as I don't like that - may or may not have happened (and according to former Auburn player Mike Blanc, there may be some credibility at stake with that). All of that is window dressing on a more serious matter.

Auburn's biggest crime is leaving out a kid to dry who may not been afforded due process and going above and beyond to keep him from pursuing the game he loves. Mike McNeil will have his day in court amidst questionable evidence and maybe not be afforded due process with his Miranda rights.

We care too much about NCAA rules being broken when there's more serious matters involving the fate of a young man's future and a school that didn't do right by him or his family. That's why this story is a big deal to me and why as sports fans, we shouldn't lose sight of the people involved here.

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