Saturday, January 19, 2013

Manti Te'o and the Hoax

When Deadspin broke the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax story, the internet and more notably Twitter exploded in shock. Was Te'o fooled? Or was he a part of it? We'll likely never know the full truth. But the Te'o story further showed how ridiculous instant reactions can be in the world of sports. Social media allows us to react to something in real time, which is great for certain things. However, people will routinely comment about how bad "team x" is playing and that they're going to lose, when the game is in the first quarter or first period.  One of my Facebook friends, who I won't mention by name, had a status update in the third quarter of the Seahawks-Falcons game last weekend. It basically said "This game sucks. Good thing there's other stuff on TV later."

He wasn't wrong; the game to that point had been utterly boring. But, of course, the fourth quarter comeback that Seattle mounted followed by Atlanta's game winning drive made it a fantastic game in retrospect. That's one example from one of the most recent sporting events--which just proves that everyone everywhere constantly lets their feelings be known via Social Media. Instant reactions in the sports world have a good chance of making people look foolish as little as an hour later, and I think we'd all be wise (myself included) to be more patient with our own "analysis." 

Anyway, the point is peoples Twitter reactions to the Manti Te'o story were both hilarious and alarming. My favorite tweet was from Stephen Douglas who writes for The Big Lead:


That was almost immediately after the Deadspin story broke (within the hour) but it's just perfect. Absolutely hilarious.

The general consensus seemed to be that if Te'o was behind the hoax, it was a bigger deal than if he was tricked. At first glance, that makes perfect sense. If Te'o was a victim of a hoax, how could that possibly make him look worse than if he was the perpetrator of said hoax?

As always, though, things at first glance don't always turn out to be true. As time continues to pass, more and more details emerge about the hoax, when Te'o allegedly found out, what he said after he found out, etc. One of the first known facts, though, was that Te'o decided to play a game against Michigan State the same day his supposed girlfriend was being buried. He's mentioned before that she told him not to miss a game for her funeral, and the topic has been covered over and over again by writers across the country. By itself, missing the funeral is definitely odd but not completely out of the question. Everyone handles grief differently, and while people keep portraying it as "just a football game" there's no way that's how Te'o saw it. Football is his life, and the Michigan State game was the biggest game to that point in his life.

But it gets a lot worse as you dig deeper into the story. Te'o admitted to Jeremy Schaap on Friday that he'd never actually met his girlfriend in person, and that he "kind of tailored his stories" when talking about her, which to non-psychopathic people is called lying. 

Here's my point: If Te'o truly thought this online girlfriend was a real person, EXPLOITING HER LEUKEMIA, HER DEATH, HER FUNERAL AND HER FAMILY when he clearly wasn't anywhere as close to this girl as he tried to let on to Sports Illustrated, he's a fucking asshole. He makes Ben Roethlisberger and Kobe Bryant look like Tim Tebow. Think about it for a moment; here's a 21-year-old kid who played up his DYING GIRLFRIEND, despite never meeting her in person. 

Meanwhile, if he was behind the hoax or at least part of it, what's the real crime? That he and another college-aged kid duped an absolutely idiotic media? That his fake girlfriend's death tricked people into donating money to cancer research? Yes, if he was behind it at all it's weird, stupid and immature, no doubt. But that is a million times better than EXPLOITING A DYING GIRL'S ILLNESS FOR YOUR OWN PUBLICITY. That's what Te'o is ultimately admitting to when he says he was a "victim of a hoax" and he "kind of tailored his stories." 

So yes, immediately everyone thought the best result for Te'o would be that he wasn't behind it. But if he wasn't, people need to recognize it means he thought this girl was real, which means he was completely fine exploiting her illness despite not being all that close with her because HE LIKED THE PUBLICITY. (If you've never met someone in person, EVER, you shouldn't do a Sports Illustrated interview about her death.)