Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wait? What's Up With Manti Te'o?

TigerBlog once wrote a story about Jim O'Brien, a former men's lacrosse player at Princeton.

O'Brien's brother was in the military and was serving in Iraq at the time. The story was basically about how that situation was impacting the family and O'Brien himself as a senior college student and athlete.

At no point did TigerBlog figure he needed to check to see if O'Brien really had a brother and if the story was real. He just assumed it was. Why would O'Brien make something like that up?

Of course, O'Brien wasn't making it up. Neither are 99.999% of the athletes who talk to media people, who then write stories based on what they're told.

The Manti Te'o story is freaky on all kinds of levels. Still, TB is surprised to read the backlash against the media for blindly reporting the apparent death of his now-known-to-be-non-existent girlfriend.

What were they supposed to do? Investigative reporting on whether or not she was real?

Nope, sometimes you just get duped along with everyone else. There are all kinds of criticisms that can be leveled against the contemporary American media, all of which would be deserved. This isn't one of those times.

Besides, that's not the story here anyway.

It's whether or not Te'o was in on it or not.

And if he had been, then why? What was in it for him?

That's the part that TB really can't get a handle on.

If he was tricked, then what the motivation for the trickers? To embarrass him? That certainly worked out, as he has been publicly humiliated in a major way.

Usually, though, the motivation is money. Did they see this as a way to sucker him in and then extort his NFL earnings from him?

And if he was in on it, then why? For publicity? Why invite a dying girlfriend for that? Being the best player for Notre Dame's football team wasn't enough?

Maybe he started out thinking it was real and then figured out he was the sap and wanted to try to save face, so he played along? But wouldn't there have to be endless ways to prove that what he says is true?

There are so many subplots to this, and not just the media reaction.

There's the Twitter reaction, which has been merciless to Te'o. Merciless.

Yes, he's such an easy target right now. But still? Is this what American society has become? Kick someone when he appears to be down before knowing anything about what really happened?

As TB watched it all unfold, it became weirder and weirder and made less and less sense. He still can't figure out what he thinks.

Usually, it's the person who had the greatest motivation who is behind it all. In this case, TB doesn't get anyone's motivation.

As always when TB watched this play out, he was struck by another thought - thankfully this wasn't involving a Princeton athlete.

TB doesn't envy the administration at Notre Dame, which has to balance being supportive of Ta'o with making sure that it's not becoming part of a lie.

The No. 1 goal has to be to get all of the information, good or bad, before making any kind of public statement, so that such a statement doesn't come back to bite them when it all eventually does come out.

Or, if you're cynical, you could suggest that since ND apparently knew about this on Dec. 26 that the school didn't want it to come out prior to the BCS title game. 

Anyway, the next issue is whether or not the administration (in this case the athletic director at Notre Dame, who spoke last night) has a greater responsibility to the athlete or to the good name of the institution.

It's not about throwing the athlete under the bus. It's about whether or not the institution can stake its reputation defending someone who ultimately could drag it down (for reference, see "State, Penn").

In other words, the school has to be very, very certain that it has all the facts.

Could this happen here? Of course.

It could happen anywhere. That's just the reality of the world these days.

Twitter. Facebook. Phones. Instant access to everything. The miracle is that it hasn't happened more than this.

Maybe this was above and beyond because of the sheer oddity of it. Everyone's reaction was the same: "wait, what did that just say?"

If Te'o was the victim of a hoax, then TB feels bad for him, because this will be with him forever.

Oh, and if you're cynical, you'd say that his performance in the BCS title game will hurt his NFL chances more than this will.

It's a huge story now because it's Notre Dame. But it's also a story about contemporary society and its rush to pile on, long before all the facts are in.

If it happened to be a Princeton kid, the piling on would be intense too, not because it'd involve the Heisman runner-up but because of the reputation that Princeton has for being a school with smart people.

Ah, but the smartest can still get hooked up in something like this.

And that's why TB's first reaction was to shake his head and then his second was - again - to say "thankfully this didn't happen here."

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