Don't just blame Te'o

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The world of sports has always had its liars: Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, and Barry Bonds, to name a few. Now, this shameful company makes room for one more member — Manti Te’o.

This college football season, Te’o, 22, was the owner of an incredible story. Motivated by the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend, he carried the University of Notre Dame to a 12–1 record. Only the girlfriend — Lennay Kekua never existed. Te’o and Kekua maintained an online relationship and never met face to face; it turns out she was the fiction of another man’s cruelty. Last Thursday, during an interview with Katie Couric, Te’o admitted that he lied to cover the hoax.

That Te’o admitted the truth without a fight is enough to distinguish him from sports’ more notorious liars. Yet, it would be an understatement to say that he was just the victim of his own naiveté. Te’o, as gullible as he was, also wanted his story to be true. He cherished the attention and the meaning others drew from his story.

“The only thing that I basked in was that I had an impact ... people turned to me for inspiration,” he told Couric. To become that inspirational figure, he ignored the numerous red flags in his false relationship. Once he ignored the flags, his story became too good to give up.

Though Te’o is the central character in this tale, he is not the only one who deserves criticism.

For all the attention on Te’o, few in the media have pointed out their own gullibility. Since Kekua supposedly died on Sept. 12, publications such as Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune covered this improbable story without any source other than Te’o himself. For nearly four months, no one bothered confirming the death of Kekua. Within five days, Deadspin, the sports website that first broke the story, was able to investigate and publish their article upon receiving a tip.

That the media remained clueless for so long does not necessarily show poor journalism, but show our fascination with heroic athletes. Herein lies the bigger problem. Elite athletes should never be worshiped, but respected from afar. Collegiate athletes, in particular, are unworthy and not mature enough for this status. Responsibility then lies with the university to protect its student athletes.

At Texas A&M University, first-year football players are not allowed to speak with the media. Had such a policy existed for Te’o, who knows if we would have even heard of his girlfriend. The sad thing is that it would not have made any difference. For some reason, his head coach, Brian Kelly, had to tell reporters of his tragic story.

As much as Te’o had to gain from this story, so did Notre Dame through the tickets fans bought to see this phenomenon — the high school football player who saw Notre Dame as a place to build his own story. It’s unfortunate that little is done to protect and nurture these young men in the mega-million dollar enterprise that is college football.

As the many layers of the tale of Te’o unravel, it becomes more apparent that Te’o is not the only one who should be scrutinized. I find it disheartening that he is the one who is being ripped apart while the important institutions surrounding him remain unscathed.

Nevertheless, every tale needs a moral. My take for this tale: Don’t trust everything on the Internet.