“Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” — Mark Twain (or at least three sources said so).
Fact checking has apparently come to sports worship. But not before weird gave way to weirder. And weirder still.
Manti Te’o, the University of Notre Dame’s most lauded defensive player and runner-up for the nation’s highest college football award, is somewhere between a hoax and a hoaxing.
If star tarnishing is afoot this past week, Te’o is not alone.
Defrocked cyclist and former cultural icon Lance Armstrong owned up to taking performance-enhancing drugs in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Armstrong came clean about being dirty for years while repping the world’s best cyclist title. Nothing new here, folks. His doping was a foregone conclusion even for those of us who held him in highest esteem.
But the pedaler’s fess-up paled next to Te’o’s tale of true love lost, then a fiction.
Briefly, the star linebacker’s prominence was enhanced last fall by the story of him playing spectacularly through the deaths of his beloved grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. They reportedly died within a day of each other.
His dramatic and powerful story made the cover of Sports Illustrated. CBS did a special report on the young man and the girlfriend who died of leukemia. He became a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing second. He played in the national championship game. His high draft status for the pros was secure.
There was no girlfriend, however, her story complete hooey.
Whether Te’o was the victim of the charade or a participant remains the question for many. How the well-spoken, highly admired and revered Te’o either fell for or partnered in such a hoax has left millions stunned.
Stay tuned for more revelations. I have a feeling the weird has just begun.
Meanwhile, Te’o’s is a cautionary tale for the fraternity to which I pay dues, “the media,” in all their forms — mainstream and otherwise.
The hoax means all of us, from local and national newspapers to Sports Illustrated to ESPN to CBS to bloggers to virtually every sports media outlet in the nation, must peel a little egg off our faces. In short, the media, for all their hype and star-making machinations, missed it.
The ruse is an example of how fast and furious and fixed in the culture misinformation can become.
I doubt sports reporters will now be asking to see death certificates when someone in a player’s life passes. Nor will they be asking stars to produce the actual sweetie if he or she is part of the story. Then again ... .
What this holds for Te’o and his future as a professional football player is unclear.
That is only one of a number of questions wafting about amid all the head-scratching, wondering and weirdness.
For millions of college football fans, Manti Te’o is the kind of kid you root for: lives clean, loves his parents, supports his teammates, plays hard.
He’s pretty salty at linebacker, too, probably a first-round draft pick.
In the scheme of things, we see stars differently.
While I’m not convinced Te’o’s abilities blinded anyone more than they otherwise would, we surely and intentionally loved the story: Football hero plays through pain of loss.
Granted, he did lose his grandma. But millions were especially smitten by his real-life saga with Kekua, of unrequited love. Except it wasn’t real.
As I write, more details and questions are emerging: Someone said he knew Kekua. The timeline doesn’t work. Who was the voice on the other end of Te’o’s phone calls to her?
Who was the victim? Who was the hoaxer? What are we to make of all this weirdness?