In one of the most unbelievable sports stories in recent memory, Deadspin is reporting that the story of the illness and death of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o's girlfriend is a hoax.
This blockbuster piece of investigative journalism – coming right on the heels of multiple-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong’s admission that he took performance-enhancing drugs – is a shock to even the most desensitized sports fan.
Te’o finds himself exposed for the second time this month, after first being exposed by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS Championship game. Which failing will affect his status in the NFL Draft more negatively is impossible to say at this point.
The story is still shaking out, but in the initial shockwave of the news, here are some initial winners and losers in this whole thing:
Manti Te’o. It goes without saying, but Te’o, who was riding high just a month ago as a Heisman Trophy runner-up, is now damaged goods. He was a complete non-factor in the biggest Notre Dame game in a generation, after being hyped as the best defensive player in the country. Now he has made a mockery of the athletic ideals his university touts with his off-field actions. What seems at first glance to be a silly game that got out of hand may wind up costing him millions of dollars.
Traditional media. Once again a story that mainstream media couldn’t – or wouldn’t – take on, was broken by a web-only sports site. Deadspin did an incredible job of sourcing their story and chasing down leads. In fact, digging up evidence of imaginary people seems to be something in which Deadspin specializes.
Notre Dame. In a year in which the Fighting Irish finally returned to the top of college football after decades in the wilderness, questions will be asked about the extent to which Notre Dame knew about this story. If they did know, did they protect Te’o or look the other way? The one-two punch of the humiliating loss to Alabama followed by this scandal is not the publicity they wanted.
New Media. A sports culture website that has in the past been ridiculed by traditional media outlets as being ‘just a blog’ has once again scooped the big boys. Once the story hit, social media spread the story instantaneously, and the crowdsourcing of the story ensured that the wheat and the chaff were separated. While the speed of the Internet can often obscure the truth, this is one case in which the truth went around the globe while Old Media was just getting on its pants.
Sports fans. If anyone benefits from a story like this, it is the consumers of sports news. It’s a compelling story well told, and can serve as a cautionary tale that what you whisper on the Internet will be shouted from the rooftops.
AJ McCarron. If there’s anyone that knows what it’s like to have your girlfriend be more famous than you, it’s the Crimson Tide quarterback. McCarron’s steady, model Katherine Webb, has become a household name after cheering him on in the stands against Manti Te’o and the Fighting Irish. And as Brent Musberger can attest, she is most decidedly real.