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COLUMN: In No One we trust


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Lance Armstrong. Kobe Bryant. John Calipari. Marion Jones. Floyd Landis. Joe Paterno. Bobby Petrino. Ben Roethlisberger. Jim Tressel. Tiger Woods.

Bountygate. Spygate. Tattoogate.

What do they all have in common?

Deception. Misdirection. Trickery.

Add former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o to the list, with the public and sports media again roped in by fraudulent narratives.

To be fair, it is unclear whether Te’o was the victim of an elaborate internet hoax.

But, the Heisman runner-up has knowingly perpetuated in falsehoods surrounding the scheme.

To recap, the website Deadspin.com reported Wednesday afternoon that they found no evidence that Teo’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had ever existed. She apparently died of leukemia on Sept. 12 of last year. Deadspin reported that there is no record of a death in Kekua’s full name: Lennay Marie Kekua.

Wednesday night, Notre Dame held a press conference and announced Te’o was the victim of a ‘catfish’ — an online affection-inducing confidence scam designed to thoroughly deceive a person.

At that press conference, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that Te’o and Kekua had an “exclusively online relationship” for three years.

Teo’s father, Brian, previously told the South Bend Tribune that Manti and Kekua had their first encounter at a Stanford game in 2009 and met again in Hawaii in early 2012.

Manti Teo said he received a call from someone using Kekua’s voice and phone number at the ESPN Awards on Dec. 6. Thursday, Yahoo! reported that during his meetings with Notre Dame officials on Dec. 26 and 27, Te’o said he had never met Kekua.

In a sit-down with Notre Dame Athletics on Nov. 13, Te’o told the interviewer he received a letter from Kekua on Oct. 13, 31 days after her supposed death.

According to Deadspin, the All-American had friendly exchanges on Twitter with the alleged perpetrator of the scam, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

Whether Te’o is guilty or innocent in the catfish scam is up in the air.

His engagement in a high degree of hoodwinking is undeniable, though.

With athletes, we allow ourselves to be swept up by their exploits, their talent and their sheer force of personality.

We forget about their character and personal life. We have no way of knowing what they are like once they step off the field.

Not one athlete named above hasn’t been a larger-than-life figure at one point or another, either in their local market or nationally.

We’re quick to anoint athletes. We’re even quicker to burn them at the stake.

Each athlete has to deal with the ramifications of their deceit.

Armstrong lost his seven Tour de France Titles and Livestrong. Paterno lost his job and his legacy. Woods lost millions in endorsements and possible tournament winnings.

To quote Inside Man, “Fact is, all lies, all evil deeds, they stink. You can cover them up for awhile, but they don’t go away.”

I was at Ohio State during the outbreak of the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal. Football players driving nice cars around was the worst-kept secret on campus.

To be fair, no wrongdoing was ever connected with that particular observation, but once the tattoo story leaked, the flood and its embarrassing waters consumed the program.

It’s also fair to shoot the messenger in this case.

We in the media, especially the sporting variety, love to romanticize our subjects.

We fall for the same improbable storylines as the rest of the public, when skepticism — while sometimes lacking compassion or tact — should prevail.

So when does the deception, the misdirection and the trickery cease?

Or does it?

Fans will still wear jerseys of their favorite athletes.

Sportswriters will still glorify athletes’ on-field achievements.

Our society can’t possibly live without its greatest form of drama.

We build our weekends and our vacations around big games. We take sick days on the opening weekend of March Madness. We overpay for tickets in monolith stadiums to be as close to the action as possible.

Sports are live. They’re constantly unpredictable.

One minute we can watch in awe as Armstrong speeds past his competition, seemingly immune to the fact that he’s bicycling up a steep mountain peak.

Now, we watch as the façade of Armstrong’s accomplishments crumbles around him, all the while talking with Oprah Winfrey, the world’s most prominent television personality.

Undoubtedly, Teo’s moment of reckoning will arrive soon.

And we’ll watch, because we must.

It’s what we all have in common.

Grant Freking is a sportswriter for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3230 or at gfreking@greenfieldreporter.com.

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