I wanted to write an article about this subject, but felt it was best to sit on it for a few days. If there’s anything this story should tell the world of journalism, it’s to do some research. There is too much unnecessary pressure on being ‘first’. Frankly, it’s been embarrassing at times watching Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Ian Rapoport and Jason La Canfora trying to beat each other to the punch over every pathetic little scrap of news regarding the NFL’s coaching carousel. Is that journalism? Is it just about being able to Tweet something 32 seconds before someone else? Being able to react to a group text or email before a rival? Surely it should be about being accurate, thorough and detailed?
This is at the heart of the Manti Te’o story. Why did it take weeks to uncover the truth? Why were media conglomerates and journalists happy to tell a story of such magnitude without ever bothering to consider the full facts? Why did the truth get pushed to one side, a forgotten aspect of a story that seemed too good to be true for so many, mainly because it was.
On Twitter as the news of a hoax broke, you had the initial gasps of disbelief then people trying to play ‘detective’. Oh right! Now’s the time to do some digging! Suddenly people were explaining how Te’o ‘had to be in on it all along’.
“There was this interview three weeks ago where he said blah blah blah, so he must be in on it.”
People were hyping up his involvement, questioning his sexuality, questioning his sanity. Had the Deadspin revelation not taught anyone anything?
I am not a Notre Dame fan. I have no reason to stick up for Manti Te’o. But the way people rushed to condemn this man was equally as pathetic as the way people rushed to build him up. This was modern media at its worst. Plucking a story that sold, feeding off it for weeks, then acting shocked when it proved to be a big steaming pile of bull. Send in the lynch mob.
Here’s what I think — and I’ve actually waited to hear his side of the story, unlike some. I think Manti Te’o is very gullible. I think he can be taken advantage of. I think he truly believed there was a women out there named Lennay Kekua and that he was having some form of ‘relationship’ with her. I think he believed this girl was involved in a car crash and was then diagnosed with leukemia. I think he believed she’d died. I think he shared with his family, friends and team mates information about this ‘relationship’ — from its early stages to apparent tragic conclusion. When the media found out about this story, he talked to them about it too.
And when he found out it was a cruel practical joke, he lied to cover up the fact he’d been taken for a complete fool.
So why did he lie? Most people wouldn’t ever consider developing a relationship with a stranger on Twitter. Heck — if you meet your partner on the internet, there’s a certain stigma attached to that. In most cases that’s completely unfair. Society loves to judge people. You’re supposed to meet your partner at University, or in a bar, or while out running in Central Park. Not on the internet. In hindsight he should’ve just come forward, told the truth and taken his role as the victim. Seemingly through sheer embarrassment, he took the wrong path. One of further deceit.
It started to spiral out of control. He was in over his head. And the inevitable conclusion is what we’ve seen over the last few days. A very public, even more embarrassing spectacle. Te’o made himself look very silly.
His judgement was incredibly weak. But do we honestly believe he was in cahoots with the hoaxers all along? I can’t buy that.
People have questioned why he didn’t rush to the bed side of the supposed ‘love of his life’ when she was allegedly diagnosed with leukemia. It’s a fair question to ask. But then this is a guy who had fallen in love with a woman he’d never met. They’d never had face to face interaction. To him, spending all night with a phone pressed to his ear while ‘Lennay’ slept on the other end was probably his version of rushing to her bed side. In this bizarre relationship that he created — this was probably par for the course.
Te’o will never shake this off. He’s always going to be that gullible, foolish, inexperienced kid who made a national laughing stock of himself in his final year of college. He let himself be deceived and then he made a complete mess of trying to cover it up. But did he have any part to play in this? Did he somehow devise this whole story to try and promote himself and help Notre Dame? That just seems ridiculous. Too ridiculous even for this crazy story.
I think we are right to question how Te’o let this happen, but I don’t think we’re right to try and invent conspiracy theories on his involvement without doing the proper research. There’s a world of difference between being gullible and embarrassed and conniving and scandalous.
The other big question everyone is asking is how will it impact his draft stock? There are several things to consider here.
Is the stigma of this story too damaging that a team won’t want to deal with the hassle of this coming up again in the future? Will a lot of GM’s simply say, “let somebody else deal with this situation”?
Having met with Te’o, can teams reassure themselves that he’s thick skinned enough to deal with the forthcoming onslaught? Does he have the strength of character to deal with not just opposition players bringing it up every week, but maybe even his own team mates?
What does the incident say about his character and personality? Is he easily influenced? Is he immature? Is he constantly making bad judgements? Will this lead to problems down the line? Is he prone to moments where you just cannot fathom what he was thinking?
Part of his charm at Notre Dame was the leadership aspect he brought to the team. Is he capable of being the same leader for a NFL team given the worldwide publicity this story has received?
And most importantly, will this affect his play on the field?
Nearly every team will be monitoring his off-season closely. He’s going to be working out with other college players and presumably he’s going to be at the combine. Te’o made a big mistake in my view deciding not to attend the Senior Bowl. What a fantastic opportunity to show he was getting on with the job. There’s no point hiding. He’s better off going to Mobile, performing well and showing teams his head is back in the game. This could be a crucial error and I suspect it won’t be well received.
He does still have that opportunity to show he’s moving on with his life and not letting it impact his play. He’ll face some tough interviews and he better be ready. He needs to prove to GM’s and coaches that he’ll win the respect of his team mates by out working and out performing everyone in the pre-season. If he does that, he’ll suddenly find he has twenty or thirty players on game day willing to get his back when the opposition starts chirping.
Te’o has to be sincere and convincing. That’s the only way he’s going to repair his stock. Missing the Senior Bowl isn’t a good start. If he goes into the combine a quivering wreck, then it’s time to wonder just how low he could fall in the draft.
He could still be a first round pick. It only takes one team to believe he can get over this. Playing middle linebacker — a none premium position — doesn’t help the cause. But there’s enough teams out there who could use the Manti Te’o we saw on the field for a 12-1 Notre Dame. If he fails to convince teams he can get over this then he’s going to be avoided like the plague. Who knows where he’d fall?
Camera’s will be following his every move in the build up to the draft. If I was advising his family, I’d tell them to embrace that. Don’t reject any interviews. Answer every question. Appear to be beyond this. Try to laugh it off when you can. I have a real fear they’re going to be uptight about this subject and that will not help.
The Te’o's need to show the NFL they can move on. The best way to combat embarrassment is to be self-depreciating and take it on the chin. If he has any ambition of being a first or second round pick, he needs to win the media battle and ace his interviews. It’s going to be a tough battle ahead. But let’s not try too hard to turn a gullible young man into a villain.
Manti Te’o conducted an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in response to this story. For more details, click here.