Making the Grade
The revelation by the New York Times that the cumulative GPA of Auburn’s 2004 football team may have been inflated by “one-on-one” courses has cast a shadow on the academic career of Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.

I don’t know what truly happened in these classes so I refuse to judge Cadillac. That is for others with much more knowledge of the situation to do. But it does sound like a trifle of a charge rather than another example of “all that is wrong with college football.”

Instead, I think it may go down as an unfortunate footnote to Cadillac’s college career. But by no means should it define his career. For if we define his career by this one mistake, we may have to go back and take away all the accolades for one of the most popular Buccaneers of all time: Derrick Brooks.

Derrick Brooks was one of several Florida State players to receive free merchandise from a Tallahassee Foot Locker. Brooks’ part of the bounty was a couple of t-shirts, but he still served a suspension in 1994, missing the season opener.

The Foot Locker scandal rocked college football. When a group of FSU players walked into Governor’s Square Mall in the fall of 1993, they were on their way to the first national championship in Florida State history. There was talk that the Seminoles should be stripped of the title, the nickname of the school was derisively changed to “Criminoles” and Steve Spurrier, then the head coach of heated rival Florida, stated that the initials FSU really stood for “Free Shoes University.”

Many people argued then that the only reason Brooks was suspended was to send a message. Brooks may have only taken two t-shirts, but he was the biggest name in the “shopping” spree. In much the same way Cadillac’s two classes was not that big a deal. But Cadillac was the NFL Rookie of the Year so he is going to be named prominently in the Auburn fiasco.

In hindsight however, Derrick Brooks mistakenly taking a couple of free t-shirts was nothing more than a 21-year old just not knowing any better. As Brooks has proven during his decade long stay with Tampa Bay, he is a man of good character. It could be argued that Derrick Brooks’ humanitarian efforts should be feted more than his gridiron ones.

Over the past decade or so with the advent of 24-hour sports news in a variety of media outlets, small-time offences are turned into major scandals in the hopes of garnering ratings. I truly believe that the Auburn affair is just such an offence, but for the next several weeks we will hear all about how corrupt college football is, a lot of people will wring their hands and cluck their tongues rather authoritatively.

But before we get too hysterical, just remember that at one time the greatest linebacker in Tampa Bay history was also embroiled in a college football scandal and he turned out to be a pillar of the community. Will Cadillac also become a pillar? I don’t know. But I sure as heck know that he deserves to be judged on the merits of what he does as an adult, not what he did as a college youth.

We allowed Derrick Brooks that opportunity and it turned out pretty well. Wouldn’t you agree?

Denis Crawford, July 2006