Thursday, January 24, 2013
Lance Armstrong might have owned the news cycle any other week when he came clean about his use of performance-enhancing drugs to win multiple Tour de France titles. Instead, a story that has to be one of the strangest in sports history shoved the disgraced cyclist aside.
Unless you have been living under a rock, by now you have at least heard about the Deadspin article detailing how Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend—whom Te'o claimed recently passed away—wasn't really dead because she never existed at all.
The story is one M. Night Shyamalan twist from becoming even stranger than it already is. A star player from one of the most tradition- and history-rich college football programs was duped in an online relationship. Te'o finally admitted that he never met whomever was pretending to be his girlfriend through texts and online chats. But really—is this the first time a young person embellished the extent of a relationship? No.
Could it be that Te'o, a good-looking young man, was embarrassed to admit that he had an online relationship with a woman he never had physical contact with or had even seen? Yes.
Is Te'o the real-life Forrest Gump of college football? He is a great football player who is extremely naive and overly trusting, but Te'o is supposedly not mentally disabled like Gump.
At some level, I have to believe that Te'o was not a part of this hoax because it doesn't seem that he gained from it. Neither Notre Dame nor Te'o was in the running for the national championship or the Heisman Trophy when the story broke—the team was far from its season peak, which came months later. The story also had no way to help Te'o's draft stock.
I believe that the story grew a life of its own, and that Te'o let the story get out of control or didn't know how to rein it in after it had become so large. I also believe that whoever perpetrated the hoax on Te'o really needs to get a life. Reading the story of how detailed this hoax was and how long it went on makes me wonder about the amount of free time some people have.
"Catfish," a documentary and MTV show about fake online relationships, has been associated with this story. I have never seen the film or the TV show, but the whole thing seems so strange to me.
This story will change sports media and perhaps news media in general. Just about anyone will believe a story about someone's death at face value. We give condolences, but we never question if a death is real or not. Next time a similar story happens, you can bet your bottom dollar that reporters will be spending some time with Google and other research methods to make sure they aren't being taken for a ride again.
At the time of this writing, this story still had legs. Te'o was planning to sit down with Katie Couric for an interview and, reportedly, the family of the person who orchestrated the hoax was contemplating sitting down with the media to tell their side of the story.