Te'o Fallout: Theories, Journalism Standards, and Lizzy Seeberg

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teo_jan17.JPG Michael Conroy // AP Photo

By now you know all about the Deadspin story that revealed Manti Te'o's supposed girlfriend - whose death last fall inspired him in his Heisman-finalist season this past fall - was fake. So what happens now? Trying to piece what happened together. More news trickles out every few hours but little seems resolved. Even as Te'o has since admitted to the relationship being strictly online, some details he and his family told the press over the past few months don't jibe with the current story (mainly visits the girlfriend paid to Hawaii and Te'o's interactions with her). At best, Te'o was a victim of a cruel hoax but he and his family are still guilty of using the hoax to embellish the true nature of the "relationship" for publicity purposes. So as we wait for more details to suss it all out, here's what we know so far:

  • • Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick held a strange press conference last night in which he referred to both the movie and television show Catfish, claimed Te'o was a victim, and swore the school would stand by him.
  • • Ready to go further down the rabbit hole? In a chat with ESPN for their story, Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Maui'a says he's met Lennay Kekua even though just about everybody involved has admitted she doesn't exist.
  • • Some of Te'o's teammates apparently didn't buy the whole girlfriend story to begin with but blame media for blowing it out of proportion.
  • • Speaking of the media, some journalists are taking almost as big a beating as Te'o. ESPN Gene Wojciechowski admitted backing off a search for more details of Kekua's death after Te'o asked him to back off. Then there's Pete Thamel who, when writing for Sports Illustrated, made a lot of hay out of Te'o's story. Slate's Josh Levin has a wonderful, scathing look at the way Thamel fell short of journalistic standards on this and another story on former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu which was written with Thayer Evans. (For what it's worth, both Thamel and Evans got a lot of mileage out of covering the alleged Cam Newton scandal in 2010, a "scandal" for which there's still no physical evidence.) Other reports have revealed that outlets like ESPN had been sitting on the story for at least a week, if not longer. Expect more, though, on the role the media played in creating this spectre.
  • • One last note: the attention brought to this scandal has kick-started a renewed push for attention to a girl that really did exist, was connected to Notre Dame football, and really did die: Lizzy Seeberg. Seeberg committed suicide in 2010 after alleging she was sexually assaulted by a member of the Notre Dame football team and then subsequently threatened by the player and teammates. The player was never disciplined - in part because Seeberg couldn't testify on her behalf because she was dead - and was part of the team that played in last week's BCS title game. Here's hoping that all the fuss over a fake girl will finally bring proper attention to the case of girl who really did exist and deserves the attention the university has given Te'o.

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This page contains a single entry by Marcus Gilmer published on January 17, 2013 12:24 PM.

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