Like a Lemming, I offer my take on Manti Te’o

As with many of the internet explosions that happen, I am more interested in our reaction to the Manti Te’o story then I am the actual story.

Why is the Manti Te’o story such a big deal?  There are actually a few reasons.  First it is a great story.  It has so many things going on in it with the rise and fall of a football hero, the perpetrating of a great hoax, and the confusion of the national media as to how didn’t they get the story way back in September.

It reminds me of two things.  The first is the Stephen Glass story that was wonderfully captured in the movie Shattered Glass (easily Haden Christianson’s best work).  That is the story of The New Republic reporter who was a great fiction writer, except he was supposed to be reporting and not making stuff up as he saw fit.

Then, of course, there is the “Tuttle” episode of MASH.   Hawkeye and Trapper create the fictional Capt. Tuttle to get more supplies for a local orphanage.  Eventually the caper begins to unravel and to cover up the lie Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar kill Tuttle off and have all of his back pay sent to the orphanage.

Secondly, it was the latest creation from that myth-making factory that is Notre Dame football and we get to finally expose one of those myths as just that, a myth.  Notre Dame football is important to college football not just because of its historic greatness, but because of the mythic stories behind its greatness.  This one time the members of the college football loving public who aren’t Notre Dame fans get to puncture this myth at its infancy.

Another reason it has blown up, especially on Twitter, is that most of the reporters who cover college football are just glad they never did a big Manti Te’o story.  There is an almost palpable relief that comes through even on Twitter among some of the writers of college football.  They are so happy their story about the wonderful Manti Te’o were killed or never got started.  They are wondering, how did we not check out an obituary to find out the actual date she died or check Stanford to see if she was actually a student or find out when exactly this accident she was in occurred.  Too many reporters didn’t pay attention to the red flags that were there.

Every great detective story in literature has a protagonist who isn’t necessarily a genius.  They are just people who pay attention to everything people say and do and find the holes in the logic.  None of the people reporting on Te’o did this until very recently.

Finally, we the college football loving public just feel tricked, flimflammed, and bamboozled, and we want to know why.  The reason the story took off and is still a major topic on the interwebs is that no one has answered that question.  For every answer we get two new questions.  Even the Notre Dame press conference was inconclusive because Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick kept deferring the answers to Manti Te’o saying this was his story and he needed to be the one to explain it.

Hopefully, Te’o will do a sit-down interview with someone.  Maybe he can explain why he said he met this young lady after a 2009 football game at Stanford.  Or, how she managed to die on at least 5 different days depending on which reporter he talked to that day.

AD Swarbrick was right last night when he said that this was a sad story.  It is a sad story, but he was talking about how sad it was Te’o would never be able to trust people again.  It is a sad story, but it is more about how our societal trust in each other continues to erode through stories like this.  One of the bedrocks of a free and open society is that at some fundamental level we have to be able to trust one another.  Because of these kind of stories that is quickly disappearing.


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