On Jan. 16, 2013, Deadpin.com broke a story that shook up not only the world of college football, but the world in general.
In a stunning report released that day, Deadspin revealed that the girlfriend of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- the one who, according to the linebacker, had lost a battle to luekemia earlier in the season -- never actually existed. The report blew up the long-running storyline of Te'o's season-long struggle to keep playing despite his heavy heart, and raised questions as to Te'o's involvement and knowledge of the hoax.
The linebacker and his school maintained his innocence from the start, and later investigations hinted strongly that Te'o indeed seemed to have been duped by a prankster. But, as predicted, the days that followed the Deadspin report saw sportswriters from coast to coast chiming on one of the most remarkable stories in recent college football history.
A sampling of the reaction from around the country can be seen here.
Google won't forget this story. People will search for Manti Te'o catfishing stories for a long time, and this one will pop up among the millions of results. If that's how you found yourself here, welcome. Thank you for reading.
Now, please stop laughing at Manti Te'o. No more jokes. No more photos of empty swimsuits with the caption, "Lennay Kekua in a bikini." No more references to Te'o as a synonym for gullibility, like the tweet I saw the other day that asked, "Did you know Te'o isn't in the dictionary?"
Funny in concept, but not in reality. Because in reality, unless you believe he was behind this hoax from the start -- which seems like the most unrealistic scenario possible -- Manti Te'o has been humiliated. You've been there, in a much smaller way. You've tripped and fallen as a crowd giggles. You've dropped your plate at a restaurant. Your voice has cracked in public. You got home and realized your zipper was down, or your jeans were ripped in the wrong spot. Something. Anything. We've all been there, humiliated, a few seconds of despondent self-centeredness when it seems like the world is laughing at us.
It doesn't seem like the world is laughing at Manti Te'o. The world is laughing at him.
Tommy Tomlinson, Sports On Earth: "Lie To Me" (Jan. 22, 2013)
To love college football -- and I do -- you have to swallow several large delusions before breakfast every morning. Pretty much everybody involved with the sport has to do the same.
Some university presidents keep pouring money into football even though it sinks their athletic departments deeper into the red. Some boosters spread dirty money around even though they risk putting the schools they love on probation. Almost all the players sacrifice their bodies even though the rewards might never equal the pain. Many marginal players blow off their studies even though their chance to play in the NFL is next to zero. Some teachers and deans conspire to keep players eligible even though it violates their professional codes. A lot of coaches keep a suitcase packed for a better job even though it makes cynics out of the players they preached to about loyalty. Many journalists (and their publications) settle for the easy story even though it makes them look like fools when somebody finally does the hard work of reporting.
And countless fans turn the games into an obsession even though it robs them of their health, social life, perspective and good sense.
In that context, Manti Te’o seems like a fairly normal guy.
Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com: "Manti Te'o has got goodness" (Jan. 23, 2013)
Te'o's trust and belief in his teammates galvanized a Notre Dame team that no one expected to contend for the national championship. Head coach Brian Kelly repeatedly said Te'o is the best leader he has been around in 22 years of coaching.
By all accounts, Te'o personified humility. He acted without guile all season. When the story broke last week, Te'o continued to act without guile. He sat down with Schaap, who is no one's pushover, and answered questions as best he could. Te'o admitted his embarrassment. He didn't try to spin the story to save face. He owned up to his shortcomings.
But we should look up from our Te'o jokes to remember that he is the victim. He didn't create this girl out of whole cloth to advance his career. He trusts people. The dark side of that trust is that Te'o became the ideal mark for catfishing
Charles Pierce, Esquire: "The Lessons of the Manti Te'o Scandal" (Jan. 18, 2013)
The failure of sports journalism in this case is huge and spectacular but, in its impact, it is nothing compared to the discreet daily fabulism that attends so much of the coverage of politics in this country. "If you tell the same story five times, it's true." As anyone who follows elite political journalism in this country will tell you, this is now axiomatic in the field. It's the way you get ahead. It's the way you get on television. It is the crude way of saying that perception is reality, which is the fundamental journalistic heresy through which lies become truth simply if they work, and N. Leroy Gingrich becomes a visionary political leader. At least sportswriters still give you an honest account of what happens in the games.