FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Why is this non-tragedy portrayed so tragically? Why the morbid focus, the sober debates, even the tears in the case of Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick?
“The single most trusting individual I have ever met,” he called Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o after composing himself.
Hasn’t this story had enough exaggeration and too much inflated melodrama?
Te’o’s story of his non-existent girlfriend is either a hoax perpetuated on him or one involving him, either suggests he’s stunningly naive or wove a web of deceit to some means. We’ll wait. We’ll see.
But no one died here, as opposed to what the months-long myth involving his non-existent girlfriend said. No one looks good today, from Te’o to Notre Dame to the media. But no one died.
No one even deceived in a manner that physically hurt scores of defenseless people or profited anyone untowardly. We’ve seen those stories. Jerry Sandusky and Penn State at one tragic end. Lance Armstrong and his merciless bullying at the other end.
All that’s happened here is The Skype Generation has now tangled every generation in a sports story of unprecedented and unbelievable proportions, stretching possibilities for shame and sham into the online dimension.
Which brings us to the Theory of Sports And Society.
Everything new and foreign gets discussed dramatically and deviously through the prism of sports. No? Go back to cocaine and Len Bias or to HIV and Magic Johnson.
Modern medicine brought us Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The rise of social media was defined by Tiger Woods’ “transgressions,” as he labeled the women he knew who kept parading across TMZ websites.
Now there’s Te’o. And there’s a new social frontier passed: The ability to invent not just people but full stories to play out before the nation using the Old World’s rules.
Take the media. I’ve written about deaths. Lots of deaths. And I’ve only seen two death certificates, those of the brothers of then-Miami coach Randy Shannon, considering their tale was so confusing and my questions so in doubt I ordered them from the state.
It’s a bit baffling Te’o’s story didn’t come out until Deadspin discovered it. At least until you hear the backstory.
For instance, ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski, a pro’s pro, says his initial checks on of Te’o’s girlfriend came up empty. He asked Te’o about talking to her family. Te’o asked him to respect their privacy.
Do you act human and relent? Or trample a stated family’s requests there? I’ve never pushed back at that point. Maybe I will now.
Maybe the media must be callous in this new world.
The Sun Sentinel was one of the multitude of media outlets that repeated the false information about Te’o’s “girlfriend.”
There are a thousand loose ends and apparent lies in this story. Former Dolphin Reagan Mauia saying he met the girlfriend? Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly giving a game ball to Te’o to give to his girlfriend’s family (what happened to the ball)?
Deadspin reporting a source said he or she was “80 percent certain” that Te’o was “in on it?” Swarbrick saying he was “100 percent certain” the player knew nothing?
Swarbrick has the most to protect in this with Notre Dame’s shield at stake. He also has the most knowledge, having started his investigation Dec. 26. He has deep roots as a lawyer. He’s too smart to project a second lie on top of Te’o’s obvious one. Isn’t he?
The expected turn has been taken in the public debate. Te’o has gone from someone the media trusted inherently to someone all the worst is projected on. Again, we’ll see. Truth will come.
All we know Thursday is the new sports world kept turning, even as all focus was on Te’o. Or maybe you didn’t notice. Tiger Woods now wants back with his ex-wife, Elin, a tabloid reports. Armstrong went on with Oprah.
The Theory of Sports and Society keeps proving right. Te’o’s just the latest, loudest evidence of that.