19 January 2013

What Bothers Me Most about the Manti Te’o Story

As everyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows by now, the story of the deceased girlfriend of grieving star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was all a hoax. Who knows whether Te’o was the victim or perpetrator? If I were a betting man, I’d say somewhere in the middle. I can imagine a scenario in which he fell for a girl on-line and then let things spiral out of control instead of ‘fessing up when he realized it was a ruse.

Or, Manti could be entirely complicit: he could have conjured the entire story from scratch as a carefully plotted strategy to win sympathy and, presumably, votes for the Heisman Trophy, as some have suggested. That’s weird, but somewhat plausible.

He claims he’s completely innocent, save for telling a few white lies about actually meeting the girl since he didn’t want his family to think he was nuts for falling in love with someone he’d never seen.

Only Manti Te’o knows the honest truth. 

What bothers me the most has been the reaction to the story.

My Facebook page and Twitter feeds have been littered with jokes and sneers about the situation since the story broke.

This isn’t a politician who asked for our trust and got caught with his pants down. This isn’t Lance Armstrong who deliberately set out to ruin people’s lives in the interest of gold and glory. This is a college kid who, chances are, did something really stupid and is paying for it today.  I don’t know about you, but I did a lot of really stupid things in college. Still do.

The kid owes his family and close friends an explanation. Apparently, he’s satisfied the University of Notre Dame, who came out in full support of him. As a casual college football fan, he owes me nothing.

If he were a punter on a Sun Belt Conference team, the story wouldn’t have made the back page of a single second rate weekly newspaper.

But he’s not. He’s the best player on one of the most notorious brands in sport. So, that gives everyone with a keyboard the right to poke fun, I guess.

In the overall scheme of things, I know Manti Te’o, who is poised to become a very wealthy individual come NFL draft day, is unaffected and likely unconcerned about what some hack in Spokane posts on his blog. To me, the bigger story is about who we are as a society:  quick to judge and quick to kick someone when they’re down.  Callous and uncompassionate and snarky and insensitive and hypocritical.

It’s a strange story, for sure. But, in the end, whether he brought it all on himself or not, a college kid who just happens to be a talented football player is having a rough day. He’s embarrassed, humiliated and probably kicking himself for letting things get this out of hand. To me, that’s just not funny.

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