Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was supposed to make a statement Thursday about the alleged girlfriend hoax that has caught the nation’s attention. He changed his mind. Columnist Tom Musick and reporter Jeff Arnold discuss:
Musick: However many hours later, I still can’t get over the strangeness of the story. What’s your take on Te’o’s claim that he was the victim of an elaborate hoax?
Arnold: If this story doesn’t win a Daytime Emmy for best soap opera ever, the fix is in. That said, it’s one of the most bizarre and intriguing stories I’ve seen come across Twitter in – well, ever. As compelling as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick came off in his news conference, when the school basically backed up every thing their star linebacker said, I don’t completely buy it that he was a completely innocent bystander. I mean, c’mon, what Heisman Trophy contender can’t find a real girlfriend?
Musick: Yeah, this story raises so many questions that have yet to be answered. How could Te’o have maintained an online and phone relationship with someone for years without ever meeting her in person? Why would he never visit a so-called loved one whom he believed to be dying of cancer? After he learned of the alleged hoax in early December, why did he and Notre Dame officials keep quiet until the story broke Thursday? And why in the world would a person (or a group of people) spend so much time and effort to try to trick Te’o?
If you are an NFL team – say, the Bears – would you still consider spending a first-round draft pick on Te’o in April?
Arnold: I think that’s a question every NFL team in need of a linebacker needs to seriously consider. If they weren’t taken aback by the number of tackles Te’o missed in the national championship game, they must have a lot of questions surrounding this entire episode. Does it diminish Te’o’s ability to compete at a high level? Probably not. But is this something that will be brought up by every NFL general manager Te’o meets with before the draft? Absolutely.
So much of who Te’o was at Notre Dame was about his character and what kind of leader he is. Whether he was the victim of what appears to be an elaborate scheme on so many levels has to be called into question. The second you draft him, all of those questions are attached to your franchise. And unless you’re the Raiders – who never have seemed to be concerned with character issues – this is going to have a direct impact on this kid’s draft stock. I mean, how can it not?
Musick: If Te’o is available when the Bears’ draft selection arrives at No. 20, I would love to be a fly on the wall as general manager Phil Emery and his scouting staff weigh their options. The Bears certainly could use a middle linebacker to replace Brian Urlacher (if not next season, then soon after), and no one can deny Te’o’s stellar college career.
Where does this scandal leave Notre Dame? Does this tarnish their season and their football program, or were they bystanders caught in one of the wildest sports stories in a long time?
Arnold: You know, I think that’s left to be seen. If this happens at a less prestegous school, is it as big of a deal? If it happens to player who doesn’t have the profile of T’eo, does it draw the same level of attention? I think Notre Dame – for all of its golden dome-loving, Touchdown Jesus-worshiping, Rudy-chanting loyalists – better pray that Te’o wasn’t more involved in this hoax than he is letting on. It seems to me that even with its private investigators and the truth-stretching that Te’o seems guilty of at the very least, the university put itself at serious risk to back Te’o’s version of events so quickly. If there wasn’t enough for Brian Kelly to win next season already, this just made things much more interesting.