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January 18, 2013

Clock ticking on Te'o

The most frustrating part is the inaccuracies and sensationalism.

Breaking news: Manti Te’o’s girlfriend did not exist.

As if he sat on the phone and paid homage to thin air on the other end of the line, an imaginary girlfriend who was nothing more than a vapor.

No, there was a female at the other end of the phone. A real live human being. She existed - perhaps not as the one she purported herself to be - but a real, live, breathing human being nonetheless.

Yet ever since Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick’s impassioned plea on behalf of Te’o Wednesday night, the court of public opinion has convened at the foot of TMZ and Access Hollywood, not Swarbrick’s words or, more importantly, Te’o’s.

Thursday came and went without a public utterance from Te’o, other than his comment released late Wednesday afternoon when he stated that the ruse was an “embarrassing”, “painful” and “humiliating sick joke.”

In today’s rapidly churning news cycle, Te’o’s released statement might as well have been a week ago. Deadspin writers Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey - the authors of the piece on the catfish hoax involving supposed Te’o acquaintance Ronaiah Tuiasosopo - made the rounds nationally Thursday, questioning Te’o’s role in the scam.

In an interview with the local Fox affiliate, Dickey questioned the validity of Te’o’s claim that he had been duped.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that he was a victim of a hoax, just because of how involved that hoax would have had to have been, and also how gullible Manti would have to be for such a thing to happen,” Dickey said.

Said Burke in an interview with the Fox affiliate in St. Petersburg, Fla.: “To con Manti Te’o over the course of a year with these extraordinary, extravagant, extravagant pranks…it would take over (Tuiasosopo’s) life. What’s in it for him? What does he get out of it?

“Say (Te’o) was in on the con. We know what he would be guaranteed - all the fame and attention from the dead girlfriend that boosted his national profile. There’s an incentive for one person to be involved and there’s no incentive for the other person to be involved. Figure out your probability there.”

Of course, if Dickey were as good of an investigative reporter as he’s patting himself on the back for being, he would understand the Te’o persona and would understand just how gullible and vulnerable a person like Te’o could be to a scam. He also would acknowledge that a person like Te’o would respond to a young female encouraging him to remain humble and to put God No. 1 on his priority list.

While the authors criticized the “diminished role of investigative journalism” today, they also admitted to receiving an e-mail that tipped them off about the false identity of Lennay Kekua. Investigative journalists who work for companies like Deadspin benefit from the eagerness of the lowest common denominator to reach out and share a dirty little secret gone awry.

Perhaps, too, Tuiasosopo’s involvement in the scam would have paid him long-term dividends once Te’o began receiving NFL paychecks. As for Te’o’s incentive - a national profile - he would have had to be quite prescient to anticipate inclusion in the Heisman Trophy competition. His national profile was quite high to begin with. He already was considered a candidate to be a first-round draft choice.

All that being said, the court of public opinion is in the process of chewing up and spitting out the Te’o legacy and, for that matter, impacting his future earnings. Obviously, the Te’o team - led by agent Tom Condon of Creative Artists Agency - is plotting a strategy to combat the negative spin and to defend the good name and will built up by Te’o during his distinguished career at Notre Dame.

According to Swarbrick, Team Te’o intended to make a public declaration next week - reportedly Monday, Jan. 21 -- before the Deadspin story broke five days in advance.

Only Te’o can explain the discrepancies in the stories offered by his father as it relates to fictitious meetings, a poignant touch of the hand and meaningful eye contact. Only Te’o can convince those questioning his gullibility that he emotionally fell for a girl because they made a spiritual connection in lieu of a physical one. Only Te’o can stop the landslide of negativity that is piling up outside of his doorstep, and thus, spilling onto Notre Dame’s stoop.

Swarbrick and Notre Dame did not need to fall on the sword for Te’o Wednesday night. They willingly did because a) they believe in Te’o and b) family doesn’t turn its back on family as some with little understanding of what Notre Dame represents have suggested.

As painful and as embarrassing as it might be, Te’o has an obligation - at least to his Notre Dame family -- to face the music. If that means maintaining his innocence, then sing it from the highest mountain. If that means admitting to some twisted involvement in the scam, let the recovery and healing process begin.

While Te’o has no legal obligation to meet with the media, he does have an obligation to his thousands of adoring followers, his faithful teammates, and his loyal alma mater to stand up and deal with the repercussions. They helped create and perpetuate the Te’o persona. They listened to and responded to the never-ending line of questioning about feeling for and playing for and supporting Te’o during his tough times.

Apparently not everyone was as enthralled with the Te’o storyline during the 2012 season. Former teammates have called the recent news of the scam a “lose lose” situation and “awkward,” hinting that the story was at the very least embellished and, in some instances, questioned for its validity. It should not be forgotten that Te’o’s teammates and coaches were scammed as well. They were thrust into the middle of the uproar.

Innocent or guilty, no one could envy the task facing Te’o. But life’s pendulum has an undeniable, unforgiving way of swinging back in the other direction. Few experience the adoration that Te’o enjoyed this past season. Sometimes in life, good fortune is balanced with the bad. That time has arrived for Manti Te’o.

 


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