So here’s where we stand with the Manti Te’o situation: You’re either naive for believing that con artists can’t be shockingly craven, or you’re naive for believing athletes can’t be outrageously manipulative and attention hungry.
By now you probably know the back story. A Heisman candidate linebacker from Notre Dame inspired the sports world by bravely playing through his grief after the passing of his girlfriend. An investigation by Deadspin discovered the girlfriend was not real. The grief may or may not have been.
You’ve probably also picked a side. You’re inclined to think Te’o was the victim of a cruel hoax, or you think Te’o was a conniving schemer in search of publicity.
There’s a reason sports reporters have been slightly more likely than the general public to believe the former. And it goes beyond the knee-jerk defense of an industry that fell on its collective face by failing to do some basic fact-checking in regards to Te’o.
No, the reason is this: I guarantee that every reporter who’s been in the business for a good stretch has been fed a false lead. I’m not talking about the guy who e-mails what they heard from a friend of a friend who might have been involved in something. I’m talking about correspondence with someone who relays with an almost religious fervor that there’s a story you must look into if you’re worth your journalistic salt. These people have a strange, perverse desire to mislead, and that seems to be their only motivation.
On the other hand, if you believe athletes aren’t just as capable of being misleading, well, what rock have you crawled out from under? Only this week, Lance Armstrong, despite wagging his finger at us for ages, came clean (pun intended) about his use of performance enhancing drugs.
And the hype machines athletes create these days can go to incredible lengths. We live in an era where athletes will hire their own beat reporters, sell their own merchandise. Their name is their brand name, their athletic prowess is their product.
In the end, it’s even possible that nobody is right and everybody is. It could be the case that Te’o exaggerated stories about a girlfriend he thought existed.
We still have a lot to learn about the situation. Until then, it’s PT Barnum’s world, and we’re just living in it.