Early in the week, I assumed my lead story for this column would be Lance Armstrong. Little did I know that the Manti Te’o saga was about to hit. In case you somehow missed it, Te’o is the Notre Dame linebacker who became an inspirational story earlier this season after his grandmother and his girlfriend died hours apart. He played in his team’s game that week anyway, recording twelve tackles and a fumble recovery in an upset of 10th-ranked Michigan State on the road. His strong season and compelling story led to a second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, which was the highest finish for an exclusively defensive player since 1980. On Wednesday, Deadspin revealed that not only did his girlfriend not die back in September, she didn’t even exist.
It appears that an acquaintance of Te’o's, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, was behind the hoax that somehow managed to lead the player to believe that this girl, Lannay Kukoa, was his girlfriend for at least a couple of years. There is so much about this story that makes no sense, it’s hard to know where to start. I can believe that anybody, especially an overly trusting person, can be duped over the internet without a huge amount of difficulty. It’s hard to imagine, though, how it could get this far, or really how it could get even a fraction of how far it got. This guy was a star middle linebacker for Notre Dame, a football program that gets more attention than any program in the country, despite its general lack of success for the last couple of decades (yes, I know they were good this year. Alabama showed that they were still wildly overrated). Did he really need to find a “girlfriend” on the internet? Especially a girl that he never managed to actually meet? Reports say Tuiasosopo had a female acquaintance of his speak to Te’o on the phone regularly, playing the role of Kukoa. The fiction included a truck accident that injured the girl, and then a quick battle with leukemia that took her life.
The initial discussions were all centered around whether or not Te’o was actually involved in the hoax himself, using the attention to boost his public profile and his Heisman candidacy. It didn’t seem to make sense that he was simply a victim of this hoax, since he had openly discussed his “girlfriend” with the media, even after the date when he had reportedly discovered that it was all false. Earlier stories had talked about how he had spent time with her in Hawaii on several occasions and how he had met her after a game against USC. If he said he had met her, he had to be in on it, right? The explanation goes that he had lied to his parents about the meetings, as he was embarrassed about this relationship that seemed to have developed with no actual meeting having taken place. His father was the one who told the stories of the meetings to the media. I guess the post-revelation comments about her also came from some kind of defense mechanism. He also states that he was still unsure that all of it was fake at that point, although he clearly knew something was up.
My first thoughts here were that Te’o was behind the hoax. I still don’t really buy the story he is putting out there, especially when you consider the fact that he took days to speak about it at all, and when he finally did, he insisted on doing it off-camera and with his lawyer present. I am not sure why any of that would be necessary if he were simply telling the truth. My opinion is that even though he may not have been involved in the hoax itself, his dishonesty led to it being the story it became, and he is still being less than honest when discussing what happened. If he loved this girl, he would have gone to see her during her coma or he would have gone to her funeral. He would have done something more than talk on the phone. The biggest thing I take away from all of this is that Manti Te’o is simply not a very smart person. Anyone with any level of intelligence would have seen through this whole thing, no matter how elaborate it was, long ago. Sure, white lies can become bigger lies due to circumstances, but this guy allowed himself and his team to become the feel-good story of the season, all the way until the BCS Championship game, despite the fact that he knew for some of that time that this girl did not even exist.
It remains to be seen what this whole incident will do to Te’o's draft stock. It won’t help, that’s for sure. It also won’t help that he was flat-out awful against Alabama in that championship game, playing one of the worst games I have ever seen a middle linebacker play in a big spot. Before all of this, he was being discussed as a top-five pick overall. I can’t imagine he will go anywhere close to that now.
Bad sports, continued:
2) Lance Armstrong finally admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his cycling career this week. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, he came clean about the doping as well as all of the bullying he did to try to keep his cheating from being accepted as fact. Whether or not he did enough to satisfy his many critics remains to be seen, but it’s a start.
3) Tiger Woods is the biggest name in golf. Rory McIlory is the current best golfer in the world, and he just signed a huge deal with Nike in recent weeks. Despite all of that, both failed to make the cut this weekend at a a tournament in Abu Dhabi.
4) Do you know those stupid bets where the mayor of one city whose team is in a big game bets the owner of the opposing team’s city that his or her team will win, with the stakes being some dopey things associated with those cities? Michael Hancock, the mayor of Denver, had one of those bets with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, before the Broncos and the Ravens played in the NFL playoffs last week. Since his team lost, Hancock was going to have to perform the signature dance of Ray Lewis, the retiring linebacker (and erstwhile murderer) from the Ravens, in some kind of public way. The actual performance was postponed on Monday after Hancock injured himself practicing the dance. I apologize for whatever time you spent on this inane story.
5) The fact that Lane Kiffin is still the head coach of the USC Trojans became even more amazing this week when a story broke about a brawl that broke out in the team’s locker room after its loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl a couple of weeks back. Pathetic.
6) Ryan Leaf, one of the worst draft picks in NFL history, continued his sad story when he was actually kicked out of a drug rehab this week and sent back to prison after threatening a staffer and violating the conditions of his treatment.
7) San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree is being investigated for a possible sexual assault that occurred last week.
8) Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith was arrested on Thursday after he tried to go through airport security with a gun in his bag. Genius.
10) Shortly after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta to earn a Super Bowl berth on Sunday, a Falcons fan was stabbed in the neck by a Niners fan outside the stadium. The victim apparently started the fight with a punch.
1) On Tuesday, Kimiko Date-Krumm became the oldest woman to ever win a match in the Australian Open at the age of 42. She beat 12th-seeded Nadia Petrova to advance.
2) Rebecca Greenwell, a high school senior basketball player in Kentucky, set a national record for three-pointers in a game with seventeen during her team’s win on Monday.
Bad sports, good sports appears every Monday
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