These last weeks have had no shortage of incredible stories. With Ray Lewis and the Ravens knocking off Tom Brady and the Patriots against all odds, the Super “Harbaugh” Bowl is right around the corner, the NHL ended the lockout and is back, and March Madness and the NFL draft are quickly approaching. This is probably one of the best times of the year in sports, and yet instead of having the focus on topics such as those, the media has instead decided to solely focus on an athlete’s “fake girlfriend”.
Think about that for a second, what is this world coming to when the biggest story in the football world has to do with a college players personal life in which no actual laws were broken.
Now before I get started, I’ll admit I understand why people want to hear about this, it’s one of the strangest satires I have ever heard. And for a situation this elaborately set up and with so many weird twists and turns to happen to one of the highest profile players in the history of college football, it was bound to be discussed and be all over the news. This story is just too strange and unique to not be reported. That part I have no problem with. But what I do have a problem with, is how Manti T’eo has been absolutely crucified by mainstream media, for something that is being blamed solely on him. I’m sorry but last time I checked, Manti T’eo never wrote an article on his relationship with Lennay Kekua or forced the story of her death down our throats. It was the mainstream media that was pumping out all of the stories on the subject and reporting it as facts. What ever happened to journalistic integrity? These same media enterprises that have been blasting T’eo for misleading the public these past few weeks, are the guilty parties that have been reporting the story as fact to us without ever putting any research in. The fact that it took this many months to find out that the person never existed is embarrassing. There are thousands of articles out there saying Manti T’eo must be the dumbest person ever if he didn’t realize that Kukua didn’t exist…well if that’s the case then how dumb are the billion dollar companies with thousands of employees and researchers who it took months to find out not only that Kukua wasn’t dead, but that she didn’t even exist? To me this story shows more about the problems with the world today, than it does about Manti T’eo. In a world where information travels so quickly, journalists no longer verify their stories, because they know if they take the time to verify it, someone else will have already run the story and they will have missed out. That’s why you see so many stories published and then a few days later the true details come out and we realize that we didn’t know what happened at all. Look at the irreparable damage that was caused to T’eo’s reputation because of that Deadspin story. The day it came out, not even 24 hours later there were articles accusing T’eo of being gay and also of creating the entire hoax himself just to garner himself some Heisman votes. As each day goes by there is more and more information being released that is proving that T’eo was in fact a victim in this situation, despite being portrayed as a liar in the beginning. It has now been documented that there were countless hours talked on the phone, there is now voicemail messages that have been provided proving that he did speak to a girl. Having said that, there are a lot of details still to come and in the end T’eo could end up shouldering the blame, but my problem with the situation is how quickly the media reported it, and with no regard to how despite not having all the facts straight releasing the story could change the young man’s life. The lack of journalistic integrity shown by pretty much the entire media actually sickens me, and almost makes me embarrassed to say that I have a career in this business. The reason I say that is because the same week the T’eo story came to light, another athlete Michael Crabtree was accused of sexual assault. Now since those charges have been dropped on Crabtree, and he may be innocent in the situation completely, but my problem is that since when as a society did we decide that an athlete having a fake girlfriend is a bigger story than an actual crime like sexual assault. If that doesn’t bother you, then you seriously need to get your priorities in order. Even if Manti T’eo was guilty of making up a story, no crime would have been committed whatsoever. Yet for some reason he became public enemy #1. Now if you still disagree with me on the fact that T’eo wasn’t really guilty in this situation that’s fine, and like I said there are still lots of details to come in the following weeks and months. But in the end the story will be clear, and we will know one way or the other whether he was guilty or the victim.
However, one thing that I will argue now and that nothing that comes out in the next few months will change my personal opinion on this, is the fact that none of this changes anything about Manti T’eo the athlete. This could change your opinion of him as a person, that is your right, if you feel like you were lied to or misled than that is completely fine, you could never cheer for him again…or you could even hate the guy if you want. But to say that this takes away from Manti T’eo as a player just makes zero sense at all. In my opinion outside of breaking laws, nothing that an athlete does off the field should affect your opinion of them as an athlete. You could have a drinking problem, you could be a womanizer, be unfaithful, be a bad parent, an awful friend, not sign autographs for kids, do whatever you want. As long as you produce on the field, that’s all that matters! Now having said that if you do all those things as a person then you would be an ***hole, but does that change my opinion of you as a football player? Absolutely not! When you have surgery performed on you, do you care if your surgeon is faithful to his wife, or do you care that he is the best at what he does? I for one would take the deadbeat father and husband who happens to be the best surgeon in the world, over a surgeon who happens to be a family man but his hands shake like he is a retired boxer. Why an athlete’s personal life (obviously not including actually breaking laws) matters I have no idea. They are paid to do a job and that is play football, as long as they do that, while conforming to society’s laws, nothing else should matter. I understand why people are iffy about Ray Lewis because of the murder accusations, or why they hated Stallworth for vehicular manslaughter, but to hate Manti T’eo for getting “catfished” come on now! Nothing that has come to light in the past few days changes that Manti T’eo came one game away from capping off one of the most dominant seasons by a defensive player in college football history. The real shame is during the month of December leading up to the bowl game, he found out about all of this so had all of that on his mind, and he clearly wasn’t the same player in the National Championship, so I will always wonder if that was because his mind was elsewhere. Had Notre Dame won that National Championship there is no questioning that it would have been in large part due to the leadership of T’eo could have pulled off one of the most incredible and underdog title runs in college football history. Even though Notre Dame lost Manti T’eo will always be remembered in the record books for what he accomplished. Had it not been for a PHENOMENAL redshirt freshman once in a lifetime type player in Johnny Manziel, T’eo would have been the first ever to win the Heisman as purely defensive player. Even though he didn’t win the Heisman he got the most votes by a purely defensive player as well. T’eo also won more individual awards this season than anyone ever has. He not only led the team to an undefeated regular season, but he also awoke the millions of Notre Dame fans across the country, and revitalized the most historic program in college football with a spark that it so desperately needed.
So some of you might remember Manti T’eo for this whole “Catfish hoax” or as “the idiot who fell in love without ever meeting a girl”, but I will always remember him as an athlete who put it all on the line in every single game he played in. And not only performed great in every game, but also made those around him better. I will remember Manti T’eo who for an entire season made Notre Dame fans forget about the embarrassing decade of football they had just been put through while becoming a laughing-stock in the world of college football. Because after years of disappointment, T’eo managed to put the university back on the map and remind everyone why Notre Dame has such a rich history of success. His “girlfriend” wasn’t the one out there making the tackles or intercepting all of those passes, so whether she was fake or not has zero effect on his performance! So for those of you that lost respect for T’eo, that is your prerogative. But I for one still think he is one of the best to ever put on the blue and gold, and I will always be thankful to him for helping us all believe again!