Problems & Manti Teo

Jan 20, 2013

My friend Mark Hubbard has written a wonderful piece which he has sent to news media outlets...

The story of Manti Te’o and his relationship with a non-existent girlfriend has dominated the media for many days.  Undeniably, it is bizarre.  But that alone cannot explain the amount and the frequent coverage through so many news cycles.  That’s where the problems begin.

An accomplished college athlete is scammed online by an emotional hoax.  By now it is evident that Te’o wasn’t an accomplice to the hoax for his own selfish purposes.  He was the unwitting victim - as hard as that has been for cynics to believe.  There is no law against being unwitting.

The factual data surrounding Manti Te’o’s football season have otherwise remained unchanged.  His grandmother did die and he was unable to attend her funeral.  The tackles and interceptions he made on the field were legitimate.  Just ask opponents.  His team leadership is one central reason why the Fighting Irish played over their heads and were undefeated during the regular season.  Yes, he may have been naïve.  But his character isn’t an issue.  He’s the kind of decent guy that parents want their kids to admire.

Against this background, the media frenzy has been intense and borderline sinister.  Would a star linebacker at say Boise State receive any mention at all if he had been the victim of a similar scam?  Doubtful.  That this story was elevated to the same media plane as Lance Armstrong’s admission of doping, cheating and lying for over a decade just further illustrates a lack of cultural perspective.  Medical experts on morning news shows actually proffered advice that T’eo might need a psych exam.  Then to have late night TV hosts making fun of an innocent young man is further evidence of a problem in our society.  And let’s be honest, they enjoyed doing it.  And almost everybody laughed.

There is something dark at work behind the scenes.  The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 19-20) published a “Sentiment Tracker” about the Te’o story.  According to a survey, 71% were “annoyed” by the story.  The verbatim comments were revealing.  ‘Manti Te’o might be a better liar than Lance Armstrong.’  ‘Manti Te’o is yet another reason why I hate Notre Dame.’  Apparently this person already has a substantial hate list going.  Could this sentiment be among the reasons the Te’o story was front and center for so many days?

Notre Dame is a relatively small Catholic university located in the Midwest with a rich football heritage.  Notre Dame is perennially ranked among the Top 20 universities in America for academic quality.  In South Bend they try hard to follow the NCAA rules and they have a remarkable record of graduating their football scholarship athletes.  For the first time in modern history a college was ranked No. 1 in the BCS and No. 1 in team graduation rate.  Manti Te’o is one of those graduates.  What’s to hate?  There are only two explanations for this animus: jealousy and prejudice.  Both are terribly unbecoming.

So we have a faith-based young man attending a faith-based college that plays football on national television.  Manti Te’o isn’t selfish.  He isn’t a bad teammate.  He didn’t dope, he didn’t cheat and he didn’t lie.  His biggest problem was that he wasn’t cynical enough.  

Regrettably, that’s probably about to change.

Copyright, Mark O. Hubbard, 2013


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