Getting to the core of the Manti Te'o tragidramady is like peeling an onion. The more layers you cut through, the more cynical you become, until finally reaching that place where even tears cannot be trusted.
Getting to the core of the Manti Te’o tragidramady is like peeling an onion. The more layers you cut through, the more cynical you become, until finally reaching that place where even tears cannot be trusted.
Isn’t that the real fallout from this bizarre tale? Although shocking in oddity, we still shake our heads and harden our hearts because once again another too-good-to-be-true sports story lived up to our suspicions.
It doesn’t even matter who knew what when. Doesn’t matter whether Te’o was duped as he claims or whether the Notre Dame linebacker was in on the ruse from the beginning in a plot to advance his career by concocting an inspirational story.
What matters is the next time a wonderfully positive and uplifting story takes shape, we will immediately look for the angle. Then cynically wait for the book release and movie deal.
Or the apology to Oprah. When will Te’o sit down with the talk-show diva to tell his side of the story? That is the cynical view, and these days its comes naturally, thanks to Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds and football coaches who lied so their players could remain eligible.
If there is a tragedy beyond Te’o’s own personal anguish — if he was a victim of a cruel game of catfish, which is a kind of social networking hoax involving online relationships — it is the idea that to trust in innocence is to embrace ignorance.
It just happened with baseball’s Hall of Fame voting. Roger Clemens used steroids, so of course Mike Piazza must have cheated, too. Cynicism accompanies every stride of Usain Bolt’s 100-meter dash and every mph of Aroldis Chapman’s fastball. It appears every time a college coach jumps to the pros and whenever a five-star recruit picks one college over another.
The media is not blameless in fanning the flames of distrust, but we’re probably even more guilty of creating heroes out of imperfect humans; in a sense, of not being cynical enough. This is true with Te’o. A tenet of journalism is to believe the story teller but not the story. If your mother says she loves you, trust that she does, then do a background check to make sure it’s true. With Te’o, however, we bought the story because we so much wanted to believe it.
My gut feeling is Te’o wanted to believe his own emotional story, too. Here was a young man who in September lost his grandmother (true) and girlfriend (or so he thought) within hours of each other, then made 12 tackles in a victory against Michigan State. Afterward, he loosely referenced the death of his girlfriend (Lennay Kekua), and in other interviews further embellished the relationship beyond its dot-com reality.
Te’o reportedly never met Kekua face-to-face, communicating with her only online and by phone, according to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, which contributes to our cynicism.
We scoff at the impossibility of it, making the cultural assumption that a Notre Dame linebacker could get any girl he wanted without resorting to online dating. It is beyond our comprehension that a naive Mormon athlete could be so socially inexperienced or awkward with the opposite sex that a cyberspace girlfriend was the easier route.
Although the circumstances of this strange and expanding soap opera intrigue us, the details are merely the stuff of TMZ titillation. They feed our lust for juicy gossip and allow us to feign horror and express amazement by way of snarky Twitter comments (guilty, as charged).
More than the heh-heh-heh nature of this sad and crazy curiosity, the meat of the matter is that Te’o’s heartbreak — real or fabricated — touches us as well. He lost a make-believe girlfriend. We lose the optimism that makes us believe the next positive story won’t again end up as fiction.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.