Commentary | Manti Te'o saga natural fit for Notre Dame

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 19, 2013 

It seems natural that the Manti Te'o story emanate from beneath the Golden Dome. Notre Dame is the spawning ground of great myths and truths that have co-existed for more than a century.

There are the Four Horsemen from Notre Dame's 1924 football team, Touchdown Jesus, "Win one for the Gipper" and all those Knute Rockne quotes that live in infamy.

Knute and the Gipper are still bigger than life. They are part of the lore that has made Notre Dame the most famous college football program in America.

There is Joe Montana and the soup bowl game in which he reportedly lay near death, downed a bowl of chicken soup at halftime and led Notre Dame to a Cotton Bowl victory. There is Paul Hornung, the "Golden Boy" who won the '56 Heisman.

There is Rudy and Catholics vs. Convicts and do you believe in leprechauns?

So why not Lennay Kekua?

Te'o's fictionalized girlfriend who died during the season and spurred the linebacker and his teammates to their greatest season since winning the national title in 1988 is folklore at its finest.

Honestly, do you want to crucify him or give him a hug?

Te'o is a 22-year-old kid who might have been swallowed up by college football's most famous campus, simply duped or a combination of both. No school has had more movies made about its football program. And, sorry Jerry Jones and Nick Saban, this is America's team.

Maybe Te'o sat in class next to Walter Mitty or heard that it was Paul Bunyan who rang the

church bells for Touchdown Jesus.

Or perhaps he saw a photo of Lou Holtz walking on water when he coached the Fighting Irish in 1988 with his rumpled program in hand.

Some say NFL teams won't want Te'o now that his character flaws have been exposed. But if you are a Hollywood producer looking for a script writer, you are going to knock on his door before any NFL head coach except Bill Belichick, who loves these kinds of characters.

One thing we know for certain is that Te'o has a friend in Lance Armstrong. The shamed cyclist was being vilified daily until the Te'o Tale surfaced this week.

Oprah might not be happy with the timing because it cut into her television audience Thursday night, when Armstrong admitted his cheating among some unprintable self- characterizations.

But that's the way things are in our social media era: Relevancy is fleeting.

If Te'o made up this story, his sin is that he loves attention, which puts him in a long line of people who wear NFL uniforms.

But he is not solely blame.

The mainstream media folks who started this story and perpetuated it broke the cardinal rule of journalism: Check your facts.

Some of the industry giants wrote about the death of Lennay Kekua without seeing a death certificate or getting some kind of verification from her family.

You couldn't get away with that in a high school journalism class.

They are a product of the social media craze that has created laziness among some and a rush to put something out there before the competition gets it.

Google can be a reporter's best friend and worst nightmare. Those attributions that say "according to published reports" do not mean what they meant when Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were taking down Richard Nixon in Watergate.

Tweets and blogs are published reports that often don't pass the basic validity test.

It's ironic that some of those reporters who did not verify Kekua's alleged death are now calling Te'o a hoax victim as if it will somehow get the egg off their faces.

A willingness to pound the pavement, get rejections thrown in your face and risk character assassination used to be the mark of a good investigative reporter.

But we are living in the shortcut era that allows a story like Te'o's to grow legs.

The dilemma of Te'o might drop his NFL draft status from a projected eighth pick overall, which means the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could get him. Wouldn't that be interesting?

If it is proven Te'o invented this whole story, you still wouldn't put his character below that of shamed cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Eric Wright. There is no evidence he took drugs, punched or shot anyone and was never a rape suspect.

Nearly everyone on campus says he is a genuinely nice person ... according to published reports.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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