Columnists, Sports

The Inner Edge: Fallen podium

Anyone who has flipped on ESPN or tuned-in to sports radio in the past week has surely been bombarded with the name Manti Te’o and his newfound “girlfriend” controversy.

Even though Te’o has been hogging ESPN’s spotlight for what seems to be 24/7 since the story was released, everyone is still thinking, “Thank God something finally came up that makes Lance Armstrong’s admitting to doping seem like old news.”

Te’o was a linebacker for Notre Dame and was voted runner-up for the Heisman after the performance and character he exerted leading up to the BCS championship game in 2012.

Besides the fact he’s a remarkable player, one of the reasons Te’o received so many Heisman votes was due to the high performance level he maintained after the heartbreak he had to undergo when his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and alleged girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, passed away within six hours of each other.

Fans were astounded that Te’o was able to keep a focused, emotionally charged mindset throughout the entire 2012 football season, despite being faced with adversity shortly before. Te’o became an inspiration to athletes nationwide.

That is, until Wednesday, Jan. 16, when Deadspin published the news that Te’o’s girlfriend never actually existed.

At first, the assumption was that Te’o made up this so-called “girlfriend” in order to boost his fandom.

But Te’o and Notre Dame insist that Te’o was in fact a victim in this situation. A victim of a rising term called “catfishing.” Claiming after four whole months of pursuing an online, romantic relationship, Te’o had no idea he was being duped.

Critics ask:

How could Te’o be so naïve?

He had to have known, right?

Weren’t there millions of warning signs that suggested this girl was nonexistent?

How could he be so reckless in regards to technology in today’s day and age?

Those who believe Te’o ask:

What incentive could Te’o possibly have had to create this fictitious girl?


Te’o has been projected to be a top pick in the 2013 NFL draft for years. He has finished the last three seasons in the top three for solo and assisted tackles, first in interceptions in 2012, and was voted runner up for the HEISMAN.

Sounds like the man has quite the future ahead of him.

Basically, Te’o is on top of the world.

So why create a fictitious person he knows will end up biting him in the ass sooner or later?

It isn’t out of the question that a “fan” could have gone to all this trouble to make Te’o believe he was actively engaged in an online relationship.

Sports fans are, quite honestly, psychotic. Nearly every fan, regardless of what sports team they follow, partakes in shredding great athletes from atop their podiums.

Heck, Boston fans know this better than anyone. Take Buckner for instance, need I say more?

Whether it is out of intimidation, or out of jealousy, everyone becomes a critic when it comes to athletes, especially at the collegiate and professional level.

Not to mention, things like social networking and online dating have made an athlete’s worst nightmare of public humiliation even more likely.

Today, if any well-known athlete makes one humiliating mistake, no matter how great, the legacy of that one blunder will linger on, clouding his or her glory moments for years to come.

If Te’o really did make up this girl and that information comes out, he instantly becomes a national punch line. He will no longer be exclusively known as a star player from Notre Dame.

Athletes have more pressure on them today than ever before to perform well because fans have become increasingly critical and ruthless over the years. The physical game can really rip one apart, but fans and the media can be absolutely detrimental to athletes’ reputations.

And reputation is everything.

Howard Ferguson once said, “Criticism can be easily avoided by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. Mediocre people play it safe and avoid criticism at all costs. Champions risk criticism every time they perform.”

Everyone longs for greatness and star athletes are willing to risk the pain and torture of shame and humiliation in order to be great.

Had Te’o never put himself out there and stepped into the spotlight, no one would care about some no-name linebacker making up a girlfriend.

Why should it matter if Te’o made this girl up or if someone played a dirty prank on him?

It shouldn’t.

He’s still a tremendous football player who will still be drafted in the first round of the 2013 Draft.

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