The Scandal That Never Was
February 13, 2013 by Adam Russell • Print Story •
Between the end of the college football season and the start of spring workouts, not much goes on besides signing day and ... well, that's about it. So in an entertainment-driven world, and in a period of time where we are starving for something to talk about, enter the Manti Te'o scandal, or what I will refer to as the "Manti GF Hoax."
Wait … scandal? What scandal? The last time I heard the word "scandal" used regarding a college football player, coach, or program, it involved someone having sex with young boys in a locker room shower. Other times I've heard the word used in conjunction with college football involved boosters paying players, dads of recruits paying coaches, point-shaving and the like. Those are scandals. A guy getting royally punked by a friend, no matter how bizarre it is, is not a scandal.
The dictionary defines "scandal" as: An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage. Using this definition, I don't think any details of the Manti GF Hoax were morally or legally wrong – well, maybe morally since it involved lying and deception. Sure, Te'o was led to believe that some (fake) girl he was (falsely) in love with died (bogusly) of leukemia, but no money changed hands, no one did anything either unethical or illegal, and no one was morally violated.
And the public wasn't generally outraged about it, either. Granted, some fans were a little upset and embarrassed that they too had been duped, but I heard people mainly say that they felt sorry for Te'o. How could such a fine young man get the wool pulled over his eyes to that extreme? Nevertheless, the mainstream media jumped on the Manti GF Hoax and started calling it a scandal.
The sad thing about this whole incident is that it goes to show how the media will take something fairly insignificant and sensationalize it to the point where it is "scandal." I know the time between mid-January and April for college football is quiet and media outlets are looking for anything to report about; but calling a prank a "scandal," pasting Te'o's face all over TV for four straight days, and interviewing scores of "experts" about everything from his leadership to his draft status is ridiculous.
Manti Te'o did nothing wrong, except to demonstrate poor judgment. He didn't check his sources, he didn't demand a face-to-face meeting with this girl, and … hmmm, this is beginning to sound like what the media didn't do, either, despite their commitment to journalistic integrity. However, in the wake of learning that the original story was false, it just goes to show that the media will go to any length to get a story, even if it means embellishing something small and expanding it into national headline news.
In my view, the only thing that could be contrived as scandalous about the Manti GF Hoax is if it acted as a performance enhancing substance. For instance, the emotion and drive with which he played the Michigan State and Michigan games were directly based on the report that his girlfriend had passed away (MSU) and the subsequent funeral (UM).
Then, after Te'o fessed up to his coaches 10 days before the BCS Championship game, he did a pretty good impression himself of Lennay Kekua against Alabama – he was practically nonexistent. Once he stopped believing the lie, even the pure emotion of playing for a national title couldn't motivate him to turn in a good game. Therefore, the hoax could be viewed as a performance-enhancing substance. If so, then Notre Dame should be forced to forfeit all its games between Sept. 15 and the BCS game based on his ineligibility from using a PES during that period.
Of course I'm joking, but if the mainstream media were to treat his revved up season as the result of inspiration from the death of a made-up girlfriend, they would be lobbying heavily for Notre Dame to absorb those forfeits and be banned from a bowl game next year. All kidding aside, though, it should be the media that is banned from reporting on such heart-warming (or heart-wrenching) stories like this until they fact-check all their sources before saying a word – and then running with a sensationalized "scandal" story once they find out they've been had.