Warrick Dunn to receive Heisman Humanitarian award, comments on Cam Newton

Newton deserves Heisman, and Dunn has a word for critics

December 10, 2010, by Jeff Schultz

Cam Newton is a big enough star that even Georgia punter Drew Butler sought his autograph an awards banquet in Orlando. (AP photo)

The problem isn’t just that some have turned Cam Newton’s Heisman run into a morality play. The problem is how we’re judging morality.

His father tried to pimp him to Mississippi State for cash. So is this supposed to be a vote for Cecil “Huggy Bear” Newton? Is a Heisman vote suddenly not for the student-athlete but for his father, mother and maybe third cousin? Because if that’s true, clear the trophy case. Start with last year’s winner, Mark Ingram, whose father has been in jail for most of the last 10 years for money laundering and bank fraud.

Cam Newton purchased a stolen laptop when he was at Florida, then panicked and threw it out the window when he heard police footsteps. Big mistake, for which he paid a price (public humiliation).

There are stories of him being on academic probation at Florida. Sorry. But does this put him in some exclusive company in major college athletics that I’m not aware of?

As someone who makes his living in the world of opinion, it nonetheless astounds me how opinion so often trumps fact today.

Cam Newton deserves the Heisman Trophy. That’s fact and opinion.

For the holier-than-thou voters who want to point to the word “integrity” in the Heisman’s mission statement and yell, “Aha!” — fine. The laptop incident and academic issues at Florida two years ago at the age of 19 prove that Newton is flawed. Welcome to a very large club.

Question: Do Heisman voters hold every candidate to that standard every year, or is this just a new policy of theirs?

But to those who chose not to vote for Newton for the Heisman based on what they THINK he knew or they THINK he did or they THINK he took during recruiting, I would suggest you try peddling that in a courtroom and see where it gets you.

“They’ve done their investigation and the NCAA says he’s in the clear right now,” Warrick Dunn said. “If they say he’s eligible, he’s eligible. People need to just let it go. He deserves whatever he gets.”

Warrick Dunn, here delivering a new home to Janice Cantrell, is a pretty fair judge of character.

Dunn, the former Falcons running back, didn’t win the Heisman when he was at Florida State (he finished fifth in 1996). But he’s in New York with Newton this weekend to accept the Heisman Humanitarian Award for his long-standing “Home for the Holidays” program and the work of his foundation.

Few athletes in history have commanded as much respect on and off the field. So his opinion carries some weight.

When asked about Newton as an Auburn quarterback, Dunn said: “He’s resilient. Mentally tough. To be able to focus and stay on course during all of this says something about his character. He’s been able to separate the nonsense off the field with what he has to do on the field. It shows he’s strong mentally.”

As for Newton’s Heisman candidacy, Dunn is bothered that it’s even a question.

“They’re just not giving him his due,” he said. “You’re innocent until proven guilty. Most of this is about public opinion, not facts. People want the perfect student-athlete. There are no perfect student-athletes. When I went to college, most of us didn’t even know if we were breaking rules. What if somebody talked to us or gave us a ride or bought us a meal? We didn’t know. I think a lot of what’s happening to Cam Newton just goes back to the Reggie Bush thing. Reggie could’ve solved that situation himself if he just [paid back an agent], but he was too stubborn.”

Newton overcame his early problems. He plays with pure joy. He lifted a college program like few ever have. He’s one bowl game away from completing arguably the greatest season by any player ever. He has endured the darkest of clouds hanging over his head, beating Georgia after the scandal broke, Alabama on the road after it mushroomed and then South Carolina in the SEC title game.

If evidence should come out that Newton knew something or took something, the argument changes. The award can be stripped. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s worse than the alternative of disqualifying somebody on a hunch.

We don’t convict people just because we think they might be thinking of a robbing a bank. That’s not moralistic. That’s just stupid.

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