On Manti Te’o Coverage

I’m not about to make any predictions about Manti Te’o’s complicity in the hoax involving once-dead, now-fake girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. I, like many of you, have read the coverage, watched and listened to the interviews, and seen the comedy, woven out of his unsettling controversy.

I don’t know if he knew.

I can’t explain the discrepancies in his and Deadspin’s stories.

I believe in innocent until proven guilty.

I feel strongly that there are more important issues worthy of discussion that should take the place of Brian Williams’ second slot.

So I have mixed feelings about sending more on this young linebacker into the ether presumably for the consumption of the Notre Dame haters. As former newspaperman – now Notre Dame faculty and staff member – Matt Storin (@MattStorin) tweeted on Jan. 17:

“It’s open season on Notre Dame, so get your gripes in now –new or old. True or false. The window will close soon. Don’t delay.”

He’s right. We made a laughingstock of ourselves in Miami and this is just the icing on the cake. True or false.

So when I’m looking at the coverage, I can’t help but notice three trends. First, Manti Te’o lied to his family and to the media, whether he knew about Lennay being fake or not. Second, this will hurt both Manti Te’o’s and the university’s football image, no matter who did and did not know what. Third, Manti Te’o must have a motive, and it might be his sexuality.

The story is not of the man who crafted a hoax to frame or potentially extort a Heisman candidate. It is of the victim who slipped up along the way.

I don’t know what Manti did and did not know. He shouldn’t have lied to the media and to his parents, but I understand his self-conscious reasoning that his relationship was abnormal. He has taken the fall for the hoax, but the university shouldn’t also be blamed. And his sexuality should not become a point of public debate. President Barack Obama prioritized protecting the rights of our “gay brothers and sisters” in his second inaugural address Monday. There’s no “but” to this one. No matter what Te’o did or did not know, on the point of tweeting and meme-ing his sexual orientation, the media is in the wrong.

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3 thoughts on “On Manti Te’o Coverage

  1. Clara: Do you think Katie Couric was out of line in asking Te’o if he was gay? Could a case be made that since a large part of the pre-Deadspin Te’o narrative was his commitment to, and subsequent heartbreak from, a monogamous heterosexual relationship–itself something of a perceived (rightly or wrongly) anomaly amongst high profile athletes–that journalists, including Couric, are simply looking for a motive to understand the situation? I agree that a person’s private life, including sexuality, should remain private. But what happens when that private life is promoted publicly–whether it be by the individual, the institution, or the press? Does that person then forfeit some of the same basic modicums of privacy when it comes to press?

  2. I really like how you succinctly listed your points (I love lists and they’re easy to read) and incorporating other sources and links at the same time. I think you really hit your points home by taking a less is more approach

  3. You raise thoughtful questions, Professor Roiland. Katie Couric needed to ask if he was gay. He said he was not. I don’t fault her, it’s the choice among other media outlets to dwell on his sexuality after his denial that I find wrong. Sexuality is not up for debate, nor should anyone be forced out of the closet or be made out to be something they are not. Sure, he gives up a lot of privacy because he promoted his relationship publicly and now has to answer the questions that weren’t asked in the first place. But sexual orientation isn’t a “public has a right to know” issue.

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