Remember Friday's mailbag and buckle up. This stuff's getting deep.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o stands on the sidelines during an NCAA against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. Notre Dame issued a release Wednesday, saying a story about Te'o's girlfriend dying, which he said inspired him to play better as he helped the Fighting Irish get to the BCS title game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker.
You certainly know the story by now — All-American linebacker and Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o's reported tale about a Stanford-educated girlfriend who died of leukemia in September was a hoax, and the girl never existed. Our ace columnist Mark Wiedmer wrote about it here.
OK, deep breaths.
The levels of conspiracy and lies and intrigue and deception in this entire tale make anything possible. We do know that there are a slew of journalists who took the words of this story as fact — and if we were on the Notre Dame beat, we probably would have been caught in this catfish net too — and are left looking for truth and for an explanation.
Never mind the fall out for Oprah Winfrey, who is set to air the first part of her interview with Lance Armstrong in which he admits what we all expected him of doing. Lance and PEDs? No thanks, that's like 12 levels of head-scratching lower than Manti's she's-not-dead-because-she's-not-real girlfriend story.
There are only a few real, plausible options here, so let's look at some of the possibilities:
— Manti was a complete victim of an online plot that was so diabolical and mean-spirited it should be a crime. For this to be true, you have to believe that Te'o — a 20-something college football star — would be willing to have a three-year online relationship with someone he never met. He also would have to be a combination of the most gullible person and one of the worst boyfriends ever. This seems like such a stretch that we're not sure we would have even mentioned it before Notre Dame Jack Swarbrick called a news conference (yes, Notre Dame had a news conference about an internet mirage that dated their All-American — read that sentence again) and pushed all of his support chips into the middle of the Te'o support table.
— Manti was a small part of the hoax at first and the small lie grew and grew and grew to the point that he didn't know how to get out of it. The Deadspin article that broke the story wide open says the guy likely behind the lion's share of the online con had met Te'o and at least one unnamed source told Deadspin there was an "80 percent chance" that Te'o was in on it.
— Manti was a knowing participant in this from the start and it became way bigger than anyone ever dreamed.
This is now THE story that is consuming social media and the interwebs.
How it was hatched and who knew what are only parts of the pieces of course. The motive — why do this elaborate ruse — is a monster part of figuring out this story.
Was it part of a sympathy plan to garner Heisman support? That seems supremely unlikely, but when the basis of the story is a girl that's not dead because she was not real, well, unlikely needs to be considered.
Was it a con or an attempt to extort money from Te'o? It doesn't appear so and Swarbrick said Notre Dame's investigators originally looked into that angle and also that no one planned to press charges.
Was it just a gag, a huge stunt to say "Ha, ha, ha, we punked Manti Te'o"? That seems implausible too, but this entire thing is based on fake stories that would have won awards in publications like SI and the New York Times, so implausible is right up our alley.
Was it something that Te'o was apart of, and if so why? To fill a need of sympathy? That seems doubtful since the real death of his grandmother was at the same time as the fake death of his imaginary girlfriend.
Was it an elaborate ruse to provide Te'o with a beard? Maybe he is homosexual (not that there's anything wrong with that) and realized the fall-out of his situation considering he is the face of Notre Dame right now. Maybe he was asexual and wanted to focus on school and football and concocted this story as a cover. Again, seems like a stretch, but a stretch seems solid when walking ina house of mirrors that are cracked with tainted information and lies.
There are no answers other than the story that seemed too good to be true was neither good nor true.
Wow, we long for the days when Lance's lies about PEDs.
The sadness and the out-of-left-field-ness of this story have also generated a ton of online zingers. (Our favorite so far — "What's the big deal, Eddie Lacey and T.J. Yeldon exposed Te'o as a fraud 10 days ago." Ouch-standing.)
Really, this is sad.
Regardless how this happened or why, we now know it happened.
And it's another time when we're left trying to explain and decipher and figure out the lies and deception around one of the sports stars we believed in. Hey, if your kid was a Notre Dame fan — maybe even had a No. 5 jersey — and saw Te'o's picture over and over again this morning in the newspaper or on TV or the interweb, what do you tell him or her?
Sports are fun and they are fun because of the action and the actors and the acclaim and the access. We want to believe in these people; that the ones that seem special and true and good are those things.
No, they are not role models or heroes, but they can be admired right? We can go beyond respecting their physical gifts and wanting them to be at worst decent and at times admiration-worthy. That's not too much to ask.
But time and time again, it appears that we're left with more questions and the puzzles and pieces of broken tales and cracked character. Maybe Manti is simply a victim in this mess, and not part of this lament, but that seems unlikely right now. But this is just the latest chapter in the series of baseball Hall of Fame debates and Lance and what ever the scandal up next will be.
We as fans and really as people need to believe, and maybe that's on us in some way — but let's hope not because a world without belief, without faith seems desolate and dark.
Plus if we can't believe, then we're not going to be as passionate. And when fans lose passion, teams and sports lose fans. Period.
Maybe that sounds somewhat cynical; or maybe that sounds like a voice of experience.
We're 8-4 against the spread so far in the NFL playoffs. That's acceptable, and it would have been better if not for the Seahawks' backdoor cover last week.
Let's look at this weekend's conference title games:
Atlanta plus-4.5 over San Fran and under 49.5 — We think the 49ers are going to struggle offensively for two reasons: the loud Georgia Dome crowd affects offensive tackles; there's no way Colin Kaepernick operates at that high a level two weeks in a row. If Kaepernick is ready to duplicate his record-setting performance from last week, then why did it take Alex Smith getting injured to insert him in the starting lineup? Atlanta wins outright, let's say 20-17.
Patriots minus-9 over Baltimore and under 51.5 — The weather is going to be a factor — especially strong winds with gusts of more than 20 mph. That will affect field goals; it will affect field position; it will also affect the deep throws that Joe Flacco and the Ravens had much success with against Denver last week. The weather makes the points look especially inviting, but we believe in Tom Brady and his drive to a) get to another Super Bowl and b) end this talk about how Flacco outplayed him in this game last year. Patriots flip the script, 28-9.
This and that
— Chip Kelly leaves Oregon and heads to Philadelphia. After all the hubbub from Kelly that he was going to stay with the Ducks, he ups and R-U-N-N-O-F-T to the Eagles. He needs to send Te'o a thank you note; Kelly would have gotten some Saban-level heat if not for Manti's imaginary girlfriend.
— Congrats LeBron on becoming the youngest player with 20,000 career NBA points. We don't believe he'll ever break the scoring record — dude plays too hard and too much with international competitions every four years. Although the way the sports world is being turned on its ear of untruthfulness, we would not be that shocked if LeBron took the microphone and said he was from Mars and he'd be taking his talents to South Venus after he opts out of his contract in 2014.
—This Manti Te'o thing does at least explain how in the world Notre Dame Brian Kelly thought it was a good idea to leave the country during recruiting season, huh?
Biggest liar and or lies in the history of sports? Have at it.
Where does this Manti rank? Pete Rose is the Nick Saban of the list, right?
This whole thing makes our head hurt.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...