January 19, 2013 8 Comments
Last summer, “it was say it ain’t so, Joe!” Now, it’s “say it ain’t so, Te’o!”
Who are you supposed to trust anymore?
Some girls have daddy issues. Some kids have abandonment issues. Sports fans are now developing trust issues that are worse than they ever have been before.
Forget about performance enhancing drugs for a moment because no one ever really liked those guys, juice or no juice. Barry Bonds was a bigger diva than Mariah Carey. Alex Rodriguez had a certain smugness and arrogance that became even more apparent when he began fielding on the left side of the infield with Derek Jeter. Lance Armstrong was a ruthless sociopath.
Prior to the confirmation of those noted steroid users, aside from the naive Lance Armstrong backers, we already knew that we weren’t supposed to like them. They weren’t respected and revered for their persona. They were respected and revered for their freakish physical abilities. Abilities that turned out to be a little too freakish to be true.
As I wrote in August, the prominent use of steroids is leading fans to jump to the most skeptical of conclusions when great moments in sports are witnessed. Despite the awe factor not being as awe-inspiring as it was 15 years ago, sports fans would always have the good guys to root for. There are people who could be role models for kids and show us that decency and integrity is still left out in the world.
That constant is going away too.
It has been well documented that Manti Te’o was the embodiment of the perfect student-athlete. He was the team leader and the driving force behind the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Te’o visited sick children in the hospital, stayed up all night to talk with his cancer-ridden “girlfriend” on the phone and he played his heart out despite the death of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day.
Manti Te’o was the ideal Heisman Trophy candidate. He provided inspiration to what I’m sure amounted to, at the very least, thousands of people across North America. In a college football off-season saturated with the horrifying story of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State, Manti Te’o was the anti-Jerry Sandusky. If Jerry Sandusky was everything that is wrong with this world, Manti Te’o was everything that is right with this world.
Everyone bought into the Manti Te’o narrative. Hook, line and sinker. How could we not?
It has been said that the media should have been more diligent. There had to be someone who should have seen the red flags. But that wasn’t the case and it shouldn’t have been the case.
This wasn’t your 37-year-old cousin who still lives in the basement of his mom’s home. When he tells you that he has a girlfriend, maybe you don’t start planning bachelor party. However, when the Mormon all-American linebacker Manti Te’o tells you he has a girlfriend, there is no reason to question it. In the world of sports, who could have been more trustworthy than Manti Te’o was just a few short days ago?
Thanks to the good people at Deadspin, it will be hard for us to fully trust ever again.
We don’t know what Manti Te’o has done. It’s difficult to believe his story when it takes him 2 days and a private interview with an ESPN yes man to tell the “truth.” For all we know, Manti Te’o could go all George Costanza on us and speak out saying “it’s not a lie, if you believe it.” What we do know though is that Manti Te’o hasn’t done anything illegal or malicious to harm another human being.
Nevertheless, we also know that Manti Te’o is no longer the man you want your daughter to bring home. He isn’t the Ray Lewis of college football. Those leadership qualities that were supposed to separate him from other NFL prospects, is complete bogus. Manti Te’o isn’t the guy we thought he was.
What is most unfortunate though is that the next, pre-fake girlfriend saga, Manti Te’o type character to dominate the sports headlines will be met with more cynic’s than he ever would have been before the events over the last calendar year occurred. This is the case because the last people we would contemplate doing any wrong, the people that we put on a pedestal, have ruined our faith.
Joe Paterno and Manti Te’o are two of the most recent prominent sports figures to go from idol to rock bottom in the span of 24 hours. Except, whether it was dramatically or quietly, they haven’t been the only ones to disappoint us. Tiger Woods was chased out of his house by his wife with a 9-iron. Derek Jeter gave swag bags to his one-night stands. Steve Nash cheated on his pregnant wife with a woman who was almost half his age.
I still love Derek Jeter, Steve Nash and Tiger Woods. They’re just too damn likeable. But they aren’t the ultimate good guys that they were portrayed to be.
It’s the cold reality of celebrity and over the past couple of years sports fans have tasted this very bitter reality. The vast expansion of media over the last decade has placed these figures in the brightest of spotlights. We don’t like to think of them as human beings but that is what they are, flawed and everything.
The all-American model is a standard that so few can reach and to expect that out of athletes who have been thrust into the center of attention is ridiculous, yet we carry on with this practice. What has happened is that social media and the paparazzi has created a world where we can no longer be ignorantly blissful towards the celebrities that we have placed this god-like status upon.
Alexander Pope once said that “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” Over the years, the public has, for the most part, proven itself to be very forgiving of sports figures that have chosen the wrong path. However, to continue trusting them in the first place?
That’s a whole other matter.
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