Usually I avoid anything close to personal “scandal” type stories. I just don’t care, and the story is personal, none of my business. I don’t slow down and gawk during traffic accidents. I just don’t get the slightest fascination from other people’s troubles.
But sometimes, stories transcend the norm and then even transcend the abnormal. And keep going to transcend even the cultural phenomenon. They cease being scandals, and the personal even diminishes. Instead, they become a view of some inexplicable nook of the human condition. At that point, I can’t help but step back and say, “Say what?” and pay attention, trying to figure out an aspect of life. And that’s the point I now find myself with the Manti Te’o story. It has reached the height of this was otherworldly, to the point of being the most convoluted Hollywood-movie story I could imagine. It isn't something I spend much time thinking about, but it is something I'd love to know what in the world is going on???!
If you don’t know about the story, no summary can do it justice. For that matter, a fair summary would go on for pages. I came upon an article from Deadspin, which I'd never heard of but lays it out impressively well – or as well as can be imagined – and it’s worth a look. It’s worth it if you don’t know the story, but also if you do, because whatever you know, it’s probably so much more coiled, twisted and tangled.
Okay, this isn’t a summary, but just a background. Manti Te’o is one of the country’s best college football players at Notre Dame. A Heisman Trophy finalist. An upstanding, noble, highly-admired sports star who played through monumental tragedy this past year when his beloved grandmother died on the same day that his girlfriend of three years died of leukemia. And he was put on an even-higher pedestal for his particularly special humanity of dealing with it all so publically. And it now turns out that…the girlfriend doesn’t seem to have existed. But – well, it’s far more of a mess than that. Not to mention deeply sad whatever the truth is.
My guess is that the young kid (and big a sports star that he is, it has to be remembered he's a young college kid) probably was the victim of a hoax. But he also probably at some point had to have figured it out, was embarrassed, saw advantages of it, and played along with it. And it spun out of control. But – I have no idea. Whatever the truth, and sadness, it’s a story that even Hollywood wouldn’t believe.
I will end with two comments I just saw moments ago on ESPN from Dave Zirin, sportswriter for The Nation, who gave a very low-key, reasoned analysis of the situation.
First, he referenced a tearful defense of Manti Te’o by the Notre Dame athletic director, while noting that within the past two years there have been two tragic deaths surrounding the Notre Dame football program (one, a student videographer on the field, and the other a girl at a nearby school who committed suicide after reported sexual abuse), and in neither case did that same athletic director shed a tear. His point was to put into question the credibility of Notre Dame as a football institution.
Second, to paraphrase Mr. Zirin, he said, “If Manti Te’o was this trusting, this decent, this kindly, then his body should be put in a lab where it could be studied for the good of humanity.”
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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