Te’o girlfriend tale is an embarrassment – and the sports reporting was even worse

Posted: 01/18/2013 in college football
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

On Thursday afternoon, an acquaintance pointed toward a pole and began an interesting narrative.

“Look at that woman,” he said. “That beautiful woman by the pole. Look at her. Right by the pole. What a beautiful woman.”

I looked toward the pole. When I was about to ask if something was wrong with his vision, he supplied the punch line.

“That’s Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.”

Right there sums it up – a normal everyday person in Boise, Idaho making fun of the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

But just as sad to me is the Te’o story – the Notre Dame linebacker said his girlfriend died and it turns out she never even existed – also represents another huge black eye on journalism.

Numerous national writers and broadcasters – supposedly among the best in the business – did little homework on the Te’o story despite contradicting facts. The local papers near Notre Dame’s campus – the people in position to hear all the campus chatter in a town filled with Notre Dame hype and worship – fell in line without once questioning the story or getting wind that it might not be true.

It took a Website named Deadspin – a site I never heard of until I began using social media two-plus years ago – to blow the Te’o story to pieces. A reporter received a tip and he and another reporter quickly started investigating the tale and exposed that it was all one sordid, dishonest mess.

Notre Dame – always fast to protect its image when it comes to football – is saying Te’o is the victim of a hoax. Nobody is buying that after how many times Te’o spoke about the girl during this past college football season.

Notre Dame’s story is that the athletic department learned on Dec. 26 that there never was a girlfriend. But there was Te’o talking about the girl in early January in the days leading up to the national championship game against Alabama.

You might recall that snoozer of a game – Notre Dame was crushed by the Crimson Tide and Te’o was a total nonfactor. Perhaps he was a bit distracted by the not-so-honest story he kept spinning that he feared was about to be exposed.

Know this: if Notre Dame was interested in being forthright and honest, it would have announced something publicly on Dec. 27. The school was hoping as much as possible that nobody in the media would find out. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick only got in front of cameras on the night of Jan. 16 because Deadspin had spilled the beans.

I have seen athletic department officials, coaches and players lie about meaningless things and try to cover up silly things not worth the effort. So imagine something this huge involving the Heisman Trophy runner-up at a football factory. Notre Dame figured if reporters weren’t smart enough to figure it out during the season, it could play the BCS title game, Te’o would be on his way to the NFL and perhaps the secret never gets out.

And, of course, Notre Dame felt it had a really good chance at hiding the story. Geez, why wouldn’t they?

Countless sports reporters didn’t research or investigate the topic all season long. The Te’o story was the biggest storyline of the entire college football season and I find it hard to believe there wasn’t anyone – repeat, ANYONE – who questioned the lack of the girl’s family ever coming forward or the sparse amount of solid details available.

So sports reporters everywhere now need Deadspin to be the ultimate investigative source? We all know that newspaper reporting has declined over the past decade but the Te’o case is especially alarming.

I remember how disappointed I was with the state of journalism in Boise in August, 2011. Boise State fired longtime athletic director Gene Bleymaier in the wake of NCAA violations and it was then revealed the decision was made six days earlier. SIX DAYS!

That is an eternity for a decision like that to remain under wraps. That said a lot about the quality of reporting – or lack of – done in Boise when a story like that was kept quiet until the university announced it.

I think of all the times schools or teams I’ve covered couldn’t keep something quiet for an hour.

Six days? I’d have trouble looking my boss in the eye in that type of situation.

So hats off to Deadspin for being one of the few entities left that actually does investigative journalism. The state of reporting continues to decline as staffs become smaller and good journalists go in other directions.

The quality of writing is also on the decline as beat writers are more interested in tweeting minor details or tidbits in hopes of getting a few people to visit their newspaper’s Website as opposed to investing time in a difference-making story that will bring thousands of interested parties.

Factor in the one-source reporting and other sloppy stuff that goes on in the social-media era and the decline of sports journalism really saddens me.

Guess now is as good a time as any to say how proud I am that I got my journalism degree at San Diego State. The university offered an investigative reporting class as part of the journalism curriculum.

Apparently, a great number of sports journalists all across this country need to take such a class in the wake of the Te’o story.


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