Saturday, January 19, 2013

When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro -- Maybe as a Lower Round Pick Though

As it turns out, Brent Musberger was babbling about the wrong player's girlfriend during the BCS Championship Game. Of course, it would've been very difficult for the director to get a liveshot of the really newsworthy one.

No apologies for frivolity. Anyone who hasn't been avidly following the story of Manti Te'o's imaginary dead girlfriend has no tabloid in their soul. Anyone who hasn't laughed about the story at least once has no soul, period.

Te'o's relationship with a person who didn't exist is in fact the perfect tabloid story and makes me very sad I'm not working at the Herald this week (a sentiment I seldom hold anymore). It's strange as can be, most of its interest is of the prurient variety, and best of all, nobody got seriously hurt, so wisecracking and cynicism are not just acceptable, they're mandatory. How fitting that Deadspin, which boasts of its lack of redeeming social value, broke the story in the first place.

Oh, yes, Te'o got humiliated. He'll get over it, probably when he signs that first NFL contract. The sports journalists I have seen opining that teams will avoid Te'o in the draft because he's weirded them out are as delusional as he was.

Other than that, who took a fall here? ESPN? Sports Illustrated? Notre Dame? I daresay those three worthy institutions can stand the gaff. Sports fans laugh at or bitch about all three of 'em on a regular basis anyhow. Te'o hurt no one but himself.

Te'o's tale is infinitely more fascinating than the week's other big tabloid sports brouhaha. At bottom, Lance Armstrong's life is not news in the sense of "new." Ruthless megalomaniac does anything to get ahead is a familiar story in American sports, not to mention life.

But here we have a "scandal" (that's what they're calling it on Late Edition, TMZ, etc.) which is a victimless crime except that the victim helped perpetrate it. This doesn't happen every day, let alone in the regimented world of football. Who isn't ready to devour news of an All-American (literally) boy hero who turns out to be either a twisted charlatan or a twisted sad and lonely guy.

As late returns trickle in, evidence is mounting that Twisted Sad and Lonely Guy is closer to Te'o's true identity. As far as can be told, which is not very far at all, Te'o was scammed, fell hard for the scam, and in the process picked up the scam like a loose ball and ran down the sidelines of reality with it. Like the people who defended Armstrong for a decade, he believed in his imaginary dying, then dead love because he wanted to. Pathos appealed to some part of his personality so much he'd go to any lengths to wallow in it.

That's really sad, and one hopes that through some means, either his faith, intense therapy, or both, Te'o gets a grip on human relationships with actual humans. The NFL team that drafts him had better be prepared to cope with a linebacker with Issues, and issues other than the absence of anger management that's an occupational hazard of the position.

But since no one was hurt by Te'o's fantasy besides himself, if he can play pro ball, forgiving and forgetting will be his future lot. Well, maybe just forgiving.

I hate to think what song the veterans will make Te'o sing when rookie hazing time rolls around at training camp. Dream, Dream, Dream by the Everly Brothers comes to mind.


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