Jeff Pearlman

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Manti Te’o

Skype, man. Skype.

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.

  • Josh

    Bravo to Deadspin? Jeff, enough facts have come out to demonstrate that Te’o was clearly roped in by a catfish job (by the same folks who clearly pulled this with Arizona Fullback Reagan Maui’a).

    Deadspin tried a bullshit “gotcha” job on Te’o, because they wanted to have a story that exposed an athlete making up a story for bogus glory. Now they’re sour because their insinuations are wrong.

    Te’o was naive and, frankly, dumb. But it’s wrong to paint him as carrying out a hoax. Swarbrick and N.D. would never be dumb enough to go to bat for Te’o like they did last night unless they were comfortable with the corroborating evidence that the P.I. Firm they hired produced for them.

  • Chris

    Strongly agree with points 5 and 6. I think this “hoax” that he and his friend pulled started off as something small and then just ballooned to something out of control as his popularity rose. Unfortunately his credibility will be questioned his entire pro career for this. I can’t see companies calling him to endorse their brand.

    Point 4 reminds me of the recent case with Bernie Fine and Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Boeheim’s rep took a hit when he supported Fine before the facts came out…and he’s a HOF coach.

    • Josh

      The facts uncovered in the investigation by the outside firm N.D. used, as well as what TMZ (of all sites) is bringing to light do not square with your version of the events.

  • Kirk

    From reading the article, it just seems like, no matter what, the kid is lying. Somewhere along the way, he lied. Either he lied about meeting her and spending time with her or he’s lying that he was the victim of the hoax. The line between him and the culprit is just too close. At the very least, he allowed all the media stories to not only report what he knew wasn’t true (and his parents are quoted in some of the stories as well of them meeting), but to blow them out of proportion as well.

    In the grand scheme of things, this really doesn’t ‘hurt’ anyone (other than those who donated money or sent gifts or condolences maybe), but the assertion that Teo was in on this (and it sure sounds like he was) sure makes one consider how much of anything he says is true. I agree, it probably won’t affect his draft standing that much, but he’s going to be hearing about this for a LONG time, and I’d like to think there are some NFL franchises that don’t want that sort of connection. Well, maybe the Jets…right?

  • barry

    Well put, sir. But, take a stand and retrieve Bulworth. It’s too good to be in a cardboard box.

  • Jeff

    Here’s another angle, some reporters, Pat Forde and Pete Thamel among them, are already going all-in on the Manti-as-victim theory. They risk looking like bigger suckers than they already are, because there are too many unanswered questions, many of them simply implausible, to take that side. If you’re a sports media pundit, you’re better off waiting until Te’o speaks before unequivocally taking his story as fact.

  • Bobby Fetter

    I think Manti Te’o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo were giving eachother haircuts one day and came up with this plan so Te’o wouldn’t get outed before winning the Heisman, championship or getting drafted by the NFL. When the fake twitter account started getting too many followers, they both knew someone would find out so they “killed off” the fake girlfriend. This is what happens when Catholics let a Mormon attend their school.

  • JMW

    Te’o is a defensive player that was up for the Heisman…Defensive players don’t generally win the Heisman.
    This whole, “my Grandma and my girlfriend both died on the same day”, seems to me to be a play to have given him a little extra edge in the hearts of the voters.

  • Pingback: Jeff Pearlman: Manti Te’o » sportsjabber.net | sportsjabber.net

  • JEM

    Bravo Deadspin? Deadspin’s provocative original article was simply incomplete work. It raised a couple dozen questions that were all answered openly in a matter of three days by Notre Dame, Te’o via ESPN, rendering their thesis on Te’o's and Notre Dame’s complicity vapid.. Had Deadspin completed their work professionally — confronted Te’o, Notre Dame and/or Tuiasopopo, they would have saved America a few billion digital bits of chaos. Coverage of Te’o sidelined the hostage situation and Lance Armstrong’s drama largely due to the speculative, half-baked, sensational blogging by the Dead (spin, not girl)

    During CNN’s Friday evening interview , the Deadspin editor was pathetic. He grasped at conspiratorial straws, slandered Te’o and his family (his family?) as America administered last rites to his project. As Deadspin flopped helplessly — perhaps a little like a gasping catfish on the dock, Te’o calmly laid out his vindicating narrative, deliberately answering 100 questions to the demanding Shaap. ( Has Jeremy ever been fooled by a scoundrel? The 21 yr old spiritual Te’o from a West Oahu fishing village would be the first?)

    I’m not a journalist or a professional writer — maybe that’s obvious, but informed sports fans do not appreciate Deadspin’s efforts at all, and the cupability call is in. The blame for this colossal hoax on sports America lies squarely with the media outlets who failed to challenge and professionally report the Te’o story in September.

    The winners and losers are clear:

    Winners: Notre Dame (with an obligatory nod to Alabama, of course), Jack Swarbrick ++, and, yes, Mr. Manti Te’o. Imagine how ESPN producer’s jaw dropped (along with America’s) as Shaap affirmed Te’o to be open and “believable”. Shaap’s body language went further, communicating, ” ..and, frankly, I think I like the guy!” America’s sports fans read that too.

    The losers are all media players: the South Bend Tribune, Chicago Tribune, ESPN (Wojciechkowski!) with minor loser credits for Deadspin and Tuiasopopo.

    Bit players, Deadspin and Tuiasopopo share special common space in the losers room. The odd couple together seemed consumed with a perverse need for attention and both forced on America their sloppy work which was exposed in a costly process.

    Manti Te’o was hoaxed, yet remains among the great young men in American sport — the real deal. Deadspin and Tuiasopopo — are common pretenders (scamsters?) and even little creepy, right?

  • JEM

    Deadspin editor on ESPN. Bravo? Ultimately these clowns will be held accountable for their sloppy work.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGoVSEpy7cA

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