Fourth and Long

Published 4:08 pm Friday, January 18, 2013

Every once in a blue moon there comes a sports story so overwhelming or outrageous that it becomes a bigger public interest story than sports one. Every once in a blue with purple polka dots moon does the same story do both.

The soap opera style drama surrounding Manti Te’o is in this case literally unbelievable.

His grandmother and girlfriend die on the same day. He goes on to play an incredible game against Michigan State. The story of his great play so soon after such tragic losses compel America to fall in love with all things Te’o, myself included.

The Heisman Finalist becomes… well, a Heisman finalist and his popularity continues to climb with every Notre Dame victory, finally peaking with the realization that Te’o and his Fighting Irish teammates will have an opportunity to play for a National Championship.

Te’o gets a call from the woman who has been pretending to be his girlfriend informing him that she is not dead, not his girlfriend and very much alive. Two days later Manti tells reporters at the Heisman Trophy ceremonies more about the death of his girlfriend. He goes on to come in second in the Heisman voting, but maintains his status as the most decorated defensive player in college football history (according to his Wikipedia page at least).

Notre Dame goes on to take the field on the same day that Alabama does. The Tide actually plays football while Notre Dame chooses instead to have football played against them. Reports of Te’o playing that game have run rampant however I don’t remember seeing any Notre Dame defense that day.

A few weeks later news broke that Manti Te’o never lost his girlfriend because he never had a girlfriend. She was apparently a hoax and, if you choose to believe him, Te’o would have you believe he is a victim, that these are simply the days of his lives.

Just when you think the story could not get more outrageous the Notre Dame athletic director stood firmly behind Te’o in a public interview, yet Manti himself has been oddly silent. All the while some Notre Dame teammates have told the press they never believed he had a girlfriend while fellow Hawaii native and NFL player Reagan Maui’a claims to have actually met the woman who never existed.

The only thing I am certain of regarding this whole situation is that it stinks. The whole story seems to have more lies than truth and at the end of the day has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with drama. Yet here I write about it because, while it may not be great journalism, it is awfully compelling.

I can’t help but suspect Te’o either chose to hide a real relationship behind the facade of an online one or began the victim and was too embarrassed to correct the media after the fact. For the first scenario to be true it would have had to be a relationship that he felt was more embarrassing than an online one. That can only mean a few things and I am not about to get into those today.

The second scenario to me seems the most likely and the saddest. Not only does it have a victim, but much of the additional drama surrounding it could have been avoided had the truth come out earlier and the lies not continued to come out so late.

To throw in the obligatory sports angle to this story the question remains as to how, if at all, this fiasco will impact Manti Te’os draft status. My guess is little to none. If I am looking for a linebacker in the first round I am much more concerned with Te’os lack of speed going sideline to sideline and inability to cover in space than his character.

The greatest NFL linebacker over the last decade is retiring with great fanfare at the end of this season and many questions still remain surrounding his involvement with two murders in Atlanta after Super Bowl XXXIV. Play hard and play well and nobody will even remember Te’o had a fake girlfriend.

Okay, we will definitely all remember, but I will probably stop writing about it.


David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at