Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes Redux

Can we even begin to compare what we're learning about Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend to anything we've ever seen in sports?

Probably not.

Can we compare the spin that is already being put on the story to anything we've experienced before?

You bet. And not too long ago.

Much as Ohio State did with the Jim Tressel scandal a year and a half ago (yes, that guy who was run out of Columbus on a rail, and greeted with a standing ovation by the Buckeye faithful last November), Notre Dame officials had a choice in how to approach, or not approach as the case may be, the story regarding Te'o.

And, much like Gordon Gee and Gene Smith's party line, as delivered by AD Jack Swarbrick Notre Dame's decision was to get behind their beleaguered face of the university 110% (don't bother, I know you can't do anything more than 100%; drives me crazy too but think it fits here).

Two decisions had to be made. First, once they became aware of the fact that the heart-wrenching story regarding Te'o's relationship with Lennay Kekua, (whom he allegedly met at a Notre Dame-Stanford football game his freshman year, who he called his girlfriend, who met with him in Hawai'i, who he said (after her fake death) that he had talked to every night for four months and who had fallen to sleep with her over the phone many nights, who was first seriously injured in a car accident, then stricken with leukemia, who was supposedly released from the hospital to the congratulations of Te'o via Twitter and his father by phone, who then died the same day, or the next day, or two or three days after his grandmother died was completely false, what should they do?

Well, they did nothing. For three weeks. Until their hand was forced by the on-line publication of the article on about the hoax, they did nothing. Other than conduct their own "independent" private investigation that apparently concluded (as Notre Dame did) that Te'o was the victim of an elaborate, cruel hoax, they did nothing. Not even contact "the authorities". Not that that's anything new for the Irish brass.

The cover photo for the Deadspin story. Hope they don't mind.

The second decision was what to say once the time was right. Or their hand was forced. And that determination was to paint Te'o as the victim and adopt his version of the events absolutely.

To be clear, I am unconvinced at this point that Te'o was in on the hoax, or that it was orchestrated by him to gain even more publicity and public sympathy. But it is unavoidably true that Te'o at best embellished the supposed facts about his relationship with this non-person. 

And yet when, confronted at the press conference about the hoax, about Te'o's descriptions of his "meeting" Kekua, Swarbrick, alternatively displaying knowledgeable familiarity with social media ("Catfishing") and attempting to pass it off as something with which he had little acquaintance, stated that he was convinced that what Te'o meant by "meeting" Kekua was meeting her on-line ("like all the kids say these days" was the implied qualifier). 

Trouble is, there's this description of Manti and Lennay's first meeting, in print, for all the world to see:
It never felt like a chance meeting, although it probably appeared that way from the outside looking in.
Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.
They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets.
Where else could the information in those sentences have come from other than Te'o (or Kekua, who, in case I need to remind you, doesn't exist)? Or, even if we assume it was entirely the writer's fabrication (which, judging from those sentences, is probably better utilized in romance fiction), where was the statement from Te'o correcting the inaccuracy -- pointing out that he and Kekua had never actually met in person?

And that doesn't even begin to explain the supposed meetings in Hawai'i, the night-long phone calls, Te'o's father stating that Kekua's "death" led to the realization that Lennay could have been his daughter-in-law but that that chance was now gone (do you seriously say that about someone whom your son has never "met"?).

No, I'm sorry. The there are too many tales of real meetings to now slough off Te'o's references as social media jargon. They are what they are. And insisting that they are something they are not lends nothing to the story and further endangers Te'o's and the school's reputations. The Emperor has no clothes.

Whatever Te'o says in the next few days about his imaginary girlfriend, and perhaps more importantly what he says about what he did and didn't say, it had better be the truth. Because, sooner or later, the truth will be revealed.

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