Wednesday afternoon Deadspin.com reported the girlfriend of former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who allegedly died from leukemia during the 2012 football season, was as real as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and bipartisanship in Congress.
The specifics of the hoax, how an All-American linebacker was duped and who was complicit in spreading a whopper bigger than the president being a Muslim are for others to decode.
My question, after allowing all the jokes to wash over my consciousness was, why do we, the media, care about who an athlete is dating?
Whether it’s Te’o, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, David Beckham or a local athlete, why do we care? That’s their business, if they want to share that is their prerogative.
Granted, it would be some world-class hypocrisy on my end to ask that question without admitting that I’ve done the same thing at times in my career.
Friday, when the Victoria East girls soccer team scored its first goal of the season, I immediately tweeted that the player in question was trying to run roughshod over Memorial Stadium like her boyfriend did during football season.
In hindsight, the tweet was silly and stupid.
Who cares whether the East soccer player, or her boyfriend, has exhibited athletic dominance at one particular location? Those who know the couple know the link, albeit it a minute one. Those who do not know the couple probably didn’t need to know.
Some may say that athletes, at the highest level, are public figures, an argument I would agree with. However, everyone deserves a modicum of privacy. People do deserve a semblance of respect when it comes to their life away from their celebrity.
When it comes to sports writers, we really don’t know the people we cover. We know what we’re told, whether it’s from a coach, parent, teammate, associate or the player in question.
The so-called "bad boys" might be pensive poets in their personal time. Our archetypical “All-American athlete” may act like a donkey when the media isn’t around to chronicle them.
"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year,” Te’o said in a statement released later Wednesday afternoon. “To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.
"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”
When the Te’o story broke, one of the first people to send me a text about the story was a professional football player. Both of us were pretty skeptical about anyone being duped into loving someone they have never met.
Then again, both of us are married men who haven’t been on a first date in years. What do we know?
After the initial jokes about Te’o subsided, I began to wonder why I cared in the first place whether his girlfriend was tangible.
Yes, I have been just as gullible as the next sports writer when it comes to some of the sweeping narratives that have been reported in recent years, whether at the local, state or national level. It is that fact that makes the Te’o story fascinating.
Yes, there was a hoax. But at the end of the day the ruse needed someone to repeat and report it enough times to the point it’s a stunning revelation this woman never existed.