You know the state of sports journalism has turned to shit when the toughest interrogators on sports hottest issues are Oprah Winfrey and Katei Couric. Thursday afternoon Couric finally asked Manti Te’o the question that every sportswriter in the country has talked around: “Are you gay?”
“No,” Te’o answered with a smirk. “Faaar from it.”
“You are incredibly naïve,” said Couric before hesitating, “…or this is a very sad story.”
Let me rephrase that for her: Manti Te’o is either the stupidest person who ever lived or a liar of insane proportion. Is this story S1mOne, the 2002 Al Pacino film about the director concocts who an imaginary star or The Crying Game?
If you read the original Deadspin report that broke all this, or Jeremy’s Schapp’s interview with Te’o for ESPN–finely detailed work, but really only click on this if you have a huge amount of time and nothing to do–or watch Couric’s interview with Te’o and his teary-eyed parents, then you know that this entire ridiculous story has far more than the few that he has already admitted to. For nearly every original statement Te’o has made, there has either been a retraction, an implausible explanation, a fudging, or an outright admission of a lie.
Now we are supposed to believe that he had 1000 hours of conversation with this imaginary lover between May 11 and September 12 last year. Think about this: Those 123 days have a total 2952 hours. That means Te’o spent more than one-third of those hours on the phone with his imaginary girlfriend. (I didn’t spend half that many hours on the phone when I was involved with Salma Hayek.)
And by the way, these phone records have yet to be validated by an actual phone carrier.
Te’o now asks us to believe that the only person connected to this idiocy who stood to benefit from it–in terms of sympathy votes for a Heisman Trophy or as a 21st century version of bunburying which would have made Oscar Wilde weep–wasn’t involved in creating it, namely Manti Te’o.
In fact, Te’o denied to Couric practically any knowledge of the wizard of behind the curtain, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, except as the imaginary Kekua’s cousin. This despite the fact that Te’o plugged Tuiasosopo’s YouTube video of his song “Ignite” on Twitter in December 2011, even though the song could not have been widely seen since it only had 10 Facebook likes.
Has the Manti Te’o story, as some are now saying, run its course? Not by a long shot. There’s too many salacious possibilities out thre that are bound to eveal themselves soon.
There’s also some more practical issues to be dealt with. For instance, the story, which now seems to be perpetuated by Te’o, that the revelation that his girlfriend was alive and being threatened by drug dealers influenced his performance against Alabama in the BCS Championship. What is the purpose of this nuttiness? Well, remember that Te’o is a football player, the NFL draft is coming up soon, and the biggest stage he has performed in was the BCS game, in which he spent more time on his face and back than a Maxim cover girl–a plausible excuse for this might raise the value of his stock to an NFL team, though if they have a copy of the January 14 Sports Illustrated with photos of Alabama running backs going around, through, and over Te’o, I doubt that this bucket would hold water.
The far bigger story, I think, is the notion that all of this is somehow the product–and I found this phrase at least a dozen times in discussions of Te’o–of “The Notre Dame mystique.” The implication is that somehow the whole mess is Notre Dame’s fault, or as SI’s S.L. Price writes in the January 20 issue, “The case of Manti Te’o signifiies ‘the shattering of the latest fighting irish football legend.'”
What was the shattered legend before this one? It has been about 18 years since Notre Dame won anything in college football. Are we still believing that Knute Rockne told his team to “Win for the Gipper”? (Actually, he did, but we’ll let that pass.)
A great many respected journalists bought into the Te’o story, writers from the South Bend Tribune, the New York Post, the New York Times, Associated Press, the Boston Globe, NBC, CBS, and, while we’re on the subject, Sports Illustrated. An why shouldn’t they? The story of a football player at a high profile university inspired by the death of his girlfriend is a good one.
Notre Dame didn’t fool the nation’s sports press, it was Te’o who fooled Notre Dame. And why shouldn’t everyone, at least up to a point, have believed the story and passed it on? It didn’t involved national security, it didn’t even involve illegal drugs–or even anything else that was illegal. Is getting snookered on by a story of a football player and his dead girlfriend really worth turning everyone into cynics, wasting our time scrambling to see if the girlfriend really existed and died? (Though I’ve got to admit I am curious to the point of giddiness to know who signed for those white roses Te’o sent to her funeral.)
I don’t think it’s any great disgrace that journalists who were or should have been spending previous time investigating more important things bought into this story. I do think it’s wrong that so many are now blaming their colleagues for being fooled. For instance, Bob Raissman in the Jan 18 Daily News, who writes of “the Notre Dame myth-machine [sic] … Te’o’s story had to be true. This stuff happens only at Notre Dame.”
Really? No one would have believed the story of the tragic death of a young woman who was the girlfriend of a football player at Texas or Southern Cal or Ohio State? I guess serious sports-related scandals don’t slip under the radar at schools like Penn State?
I think it’s time for a moratorium on sports journalists pointing to Notre Dame and to other writers and saying in effect: You were fooled by this but I sure wasn’t. Uh, huh. That’s why Deadspin and not you broke the story.