JOHN RIORDAN: Te’o hoax blows Lance’s lies out of the water

Lance Armstrong lied his whole career, made millions out of his deceit and deprived countless competitors of the precious little sunlight that cycling basks in every summer.

Meanwhile, Manti Te’o, a young footballer about to graduate from Notre Dame into a lucrative NFL career, either made up the fact that he had a girlfriend who died tragically or someone conned him into thinking that she existed, that she loved him and that she told him to play a crucial game for her just before she passed away.

Either way, the New York-based sports website Deadspin enjoyed the greatest scoop of the year so far, unearthing by way of good old fashioned digging around that one of the most Hollywood stories of the last 12 months of American sport was a complete and utter hoax.

It dropped like a bomb on Oprah’s best-laid plans and blew the Armstrong mini-saga out of the water.

Deadspin, slowly but surely becoming masters of their corner of sports journalism (“sports news without access, favour or discretion” is their motto, hypocrites and scoundrels are their targets), were tipped off two weeks ago about the possibility that the deceased Lennay Kekua may never have existed.

By Wednesday afternoon, just in time for the early evening news broadcasts and sports reports, it was all systems go at their SoHo offices and the button was pressed on what is, by now, their biggest story ever.

Armstrong was shunted to the side as the general public attempted to grapple with the incredible news. Two nights later, as the inferior sequel to Oprah v Lance was playing itself out on the Oprah Winfrey Network, word was filtering through that Te’o was ready to talk to ESPN, off-camera but without limits on the questions asked by the chosen reporter, Jeremy Schaap.

Screw lying Lance, what was Te’o saying for himself down in Florida? Manti Te’o is a full-blooded linebacker of Samoan descent. He had established his seniority last season and landed in Dublin in September with great expectations on his huge shoulders for what ultimately proved to be a hugely successful year for him and the Fighting Irish.

About 12 days after that win over Navy, a couple of events unfolded that would prove traumatic for any young man. A few hours after word came through that his grandmother had died, Lennay Kekua’s fake brother told Te’o about her fake death.

Instead of going to the funeral, he stuck around until the following Saturday when he had the game of his life against Michigan State on national television, bringing with it the obligatory Sports Illustrated front cover, the contention for the player-of-the-year Heisman Trophy and all the monetary benefit that arrives part and parcel of even being considered for the award: endorsements and a bigger NFL contract than his lower-profile equals.

That’s the thing with College Football: no one truly knows who will be a success in the NFL. Te’o is, to this day, described as “Blue Chip” — a dead cert to make the transition to the infinitely tougher professional game. However, it doesn’t harm you at all if you are able to portray yourself as someone who plays admirably against the backdrop of unimaginable hardship.

He lost his grandmother and his girlfriend on the same day and by that Saturday evening he had South Bend, Indiana and the entire national press eating out of the palm of his hand.

Partly constructed on a lie — nowhere near a Lance Armstrong lie but a lie crazy enough to shock the nation. He’ll be recruited by an NFL team but this sorry tale has cost him millions.

Te’o’s Twitter profile is festooned with a grandiose quote from The Count of Monte Cristo: “Life is a storm (my young friend) You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.”

Tomorrow he will take his turn in front of the camera with Katie Couric. Who knows if he’ll convince America that he was the victim and it was shame (not Lance-style sociopathic narcissism) which forced him to continue the lie.

While I have you, and in the spirit of an email sent by a disgruntled reader last week who told me stop writing about baseball, allow me to finish up with a bit of baseball.

Saturday brought news of the deaths of two of the game’s greatest Hall of Famers: Earl Weaver and Stan Musial, two stalwarts from two of baseball’s most storied cities: Baltimore and, to a greater extent, St Louis.

The obituaries were full of yarns, half-truths and hearsay. But after a deceitful week like the one that just went down, the truth was never going to get in the way of their memorable lives.

* Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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