To say my jaw dropped today as I read Timothy Burke’s and Jack Dickey’s article on Deadpin about Notre Dame standout linkebacker Manti Te’o would be a crushing understatement. At one point I realized it was necessary to make a conscious effort to breath, to close my mouth, to stop my blood from boiling.
The article, Manti Te’o's Dead Girlfrind, the Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story of the College Football Season , Is A Hoax, infuriated me. It detailed Te’o's notoriety, not only as a stellar football player, but as a young man with a story… a story that touched many people, including me. I, like maybe you, watched the story ESPN told, that Sports Illustrated wrote, that multiple journalists shared in one capacity or another. It was an easy hook. A college football star, broken by the double loss of his grandmother and his girlfriend. I was taken in by his courage, his perseverance, his desire to push forward against the odds stacked against him.
But it wasn’t true.
Like Lance Armstrong. Like Tiger Woods. And the many other athletes deceiving their legions of fans… many, many of them children.
Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens.
You’re all a disappointment.
But back to Manti. As the Deadspin story began to make its rounds, the rebuttals of poor, deceived Manti began to surface. Notre Dame is standing by him. They’ve issued a statement. They knew in DECEMBER about this ‘hoax’. They are either a) extremely gullible or b) going to be very sorry someone didn’t advise them to slowly back away when they could. Or both. We’re now supposed to believe that Te’o only had an online relationship with Lennay Kekua. Yet, the Deadpin article says otherwise… quoting a South Bend Tribune article detailing the couple’s first meeting after a Stanford-Notre Dame game:
“Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.”
According to that same article, the two exchanged numbers.
Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.
Also in that same article? A quote from Te’o's FATHER: that Kekua visited Hawaii to see Manti:
“They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o said. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.
And yet somehow…. now we are being lead to believe that Te’o had NO IDEA she wasn’t real. So who is lying? Was Brian Te’o lying to the South Bend Tribune when he said Lennay Kekua visited Hawaii? Did Manti Te’o lie to his father to convince him that his ‘online’ relationship was truly real though he had never met the girl? or is Manti Te’o lying about the whole thing?
(According to TheBigLead.com, The South Bend Tribune has made the executive decision to remove that original article, though as of this writing, the link above is still live.)
This is a story, when first told, made me cry. I admit it, I’m a sucker for an inspirational story. I’m a sucker for triumph through loss.
I have two small people. I want them to grow up to be the kind of people who can push through difficult circumstances. I want to be the kind of person who can get out of bed and be good, do good, even when it’s hard, even when I want to crawl back under the covers. I do what I can to model that kind of life for my sweet ones.
We place them on pedestals, these athletes. Rather than keeping them at eye level, we continue to place block after block underneath their feet, effectively turning them into giants in their own minds. The fatal errors they make, it seems to me, are an attempt to keep up with the legends we are creating by putting their heads in the clouds.
Now, I shall look to the ones who are pure of heart, the ones who’s heroism comes from their small souls because they know no other place.
Give me the children.
Meet Connor and Cayden Long. Recognized as Sports Illustrated Kids of the Year for 2012. THIS story is worth my tears. It is worth sharing with my children. It is worth holding up as an example of goodness, of teamwork, of what it means to put someone before yourself.
I hope when you consider the meaning of sportsmanship, when you think of ‘heros’, you won’t think of the Lance Armstrongs of the world – the people who lied and cheated, who kept others down for their own gain, you won’t think of the Manti Te’o's, who used deception to make their mark… you will think about the smallest among us – the ones who aren’t doing for themselves, but for others.