Right field: Te'o has no one to blame but himself

Duped Notre Dame linebacker's made-up girlfriend turned out to be a mere hoax, but the damage has already been done

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 4:44am

Manti Te'o - insert joke here. A little more than one month after finishing a close second in the voting for the Heisman trophy, the most prestigious individual award in all of American sports, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has become a national punch line.

For those of you who don't have electricity, Te'o has either been ensnared in or has perpetuated one of the most bizarre hoaxes in the history of sports.

When the female love of Te'o's life turned out to be nothing more than a cunning and calculating online male prankster, the revelation landed like a bombshell.

In the past few days, it has now emerged that the same person who perpetuated the hoax on Te'o also used this fictional female persona to fool at least six other people.

The difference between those six and Te'o though is that none of them dedicated an inspirational victory over Michigan State in September to his girlfriend and grandmother, who had both apparently died earlier in the day, thereby becoming the most heartwarming of all sporting stories this past year.

"I couldn't do without the support of my family and my girlfriend's family," he said in an emotional postgame interview. "I miss them. I miss them. But I know that I'll see them again one day."

In an interview last week with Katie Couric, Te'o admitted that when he discovered in December it was all a hoax, he felt he had no other option than to perpetuate the lie to avoid the requisite humiliation, particularly, as his undefeated team was preparing to play for the national championship in a few weeks' time.

And while the affair has inspired endless ridicule and speculation, at this stage we don't know the truth. In fact, we may never know it and that is why I would like to focus on what we do know, as opposed to what we don't.

What we do know is that despite playing the innocent card here, Te'o still has no one to blame for this other than himself. For someone in such a high profile position to be this careless in supposedly giving his heart and undying devotion to a girl he had never actually met in person and only knew from the hours upon hours they spent daily on the phone and online, goes beyond bad judgment and innocence. It is unfathomably reckless for a player who made his name by making all the right choices both on and off the field.

What we also do know unequivocally is that lovers are going to love and haters are going to hate. Nobody in American collegiate sports has more lovers or haters than Notre Dame. It's a school where everything is magnified and this is no doubt a large part of the reason why Te'o went there in the first place.

He could showcase his talents every week on national TV and becoming a football hero at Notre Dame can set you up for life. But to become a laughing stock at Notre Dame? Well, the boy is finding out right now what that means.

Unbelievably, there is even some speculation from media pundits that this whole Te'o affair is going to leave a permanent stain on Notre Dame much like the paedophile scandal at Penn State has besmirched that school. But if you can't tell the difference between a fictionalised girlfriend and an institutional conspiracy to protect a sexual predator, then you belong on a psychiatrist's couch and not here in the sports section.

And finally what we do know above all else is that in this day and age of social media saturation, news cycles spin at an incomprehensibly rapid rate. Hot today is cold tomorrow and while the world may seem like a very lonely and inhospitable place right now for Te'o, it is also a very busy place in a constant state of flux.

We don't have far to look for proof of that. Next week's Super Bowl will be the last game in Baltimore Raven's linebacker Ray Lewis' 17-year Hall of Fame career and the plaudits are flooding in. Lewis, apparently, also has a job waiting for him as an NFL analyst at ESPN. But 13 years ago Lewis was charged in a gruesome double murder.

Eventually he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, but the murder remains unsolved and there are a number of questions still surrounding his involvement in it. Now tell me with a straight face that Te'o faces an uncertain future in the NFL and a lifetime of hectoring because of his possible involvement in a hoax over a fictionalised girlfriend.