Over the past 24 hours or so I’ve had 800 different people ask me what I think happened to Manti Te’o. Here are my thoughts:
A. Back when I was a young reporter at Sports Illustrated, I engaged in chatter with a girl in an AOL singles room. She asked what I looked like, and I told her my old girlfriend said I reminded her of Tom Hanks. I wasn’t saying I looked like Tom Hanks because, for neither good nor bad, I don’t. But that was the answer I offered.
The chat continued, and—for a reason I can’t recall—I printed it out on the Sports Illustrated hallway printer … then forgot I’d done so. An hour later, three co-workers walk past, one snickers, “Heeeeeey, Tom.” My Internet dating ended right then and there.
B. Too much is fishy here. Just too much. I suppose I can understand having an online relationship—even if you’re in college, surrounded by women your age. But Te’o:
1. Said he’d met her. Untrue.
2. Never Skyped with her? Like, not even once? You’re in an online relationship, in 2012, and you don’t Skype? Makes zero sense. Zero.
3. The tie between the friend and the picture and Te’o are just, well, beyond normal. There’s something there. Clearly.
This actually reminds me of “Shattered Glass,” a film I show my journalism students every year. Glass and the New Republic are being investigated by Forbes Digital, and the competing writers are convinced they’ve “got” Glass—that they’ve caught him doing some sloppy reporting. The equivalent to the “sloppy reporting” is being fooled by a fake woman. Only the Forbes guys ultimately learned it wasn’t sloppy reporting. It was 100% bullshit.
That’s what this smells like to me. Pure 100% bullshit.
4. The Notre Dame athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, made a potentially enormous mistake yesterday. Unless you’re completely certain of all the facts (which he can’t be at this point), you don’t throw the entire University support behind a kid who, at best, is sorta fucked up. You just can’t. But Jack Swarbrick did. It’ll come back to bite him.
5. I’m fascinated how this will impact Manti Te’o's future. Obviously, he’ll still be drafted, and probably pretty high. But if I’m an NFL personnel guy, I’m having serious second thoughts about sinking big money into someone who’s going through this. The Houston Rockets are paying an enormous price for drafting Royce White, whose mental issues might wind up being his doom. Football fans like to think a 4.4 40 trumps common sense. It does not.
6. Bravo to Deadspin. Bravo—times 1,000. Not only was the piece reported to the hilt; it was also wonderfully written. If this thing doesn’t wind up in Best American Sports Writing, something ain’t right.