Saturday, January 19, 2013

Media To Blame For Te'o Saga

On a topic completely unrelated to basketball, or to fan photography, I would like to comment on a situation that reveals more about the monster that is the American media machine than any of the characters involved in the bizarre incident.

By now, most of the sports world is well aware of the continuing saga related to Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame football star who had developed an online relationship with a female who faked her own death only, only to realize she did not really exist. Whether or not the linebacker was involved in the situation has been the lead topic on Sports Center, and in many of the nation's sports pages for about a week now. As soon as the news was released that his supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua did not actually exist, there was an all out character assault directed at the 21 year old NFL prospect, the likes of which I have never seen.

When analyzing this situation, we need to start with one basic and fundamental fact. The kid did nothing illegal. Whether he was bamboozled by one of his high school friend, or he really did make up this bizarre story in order to attract attention from the media is besides the point. He's not a criminal, and he shouldn't be treated as such by the national media. Not only is Manti only 21 years old, but he's also an amateur football player, for now. Regardless of where his career is headed in the future, he is first and foremost a college student, and one that happens to be a star football player. The media has treated him as though he is already a seasoned professional with the capability of deflecting such an incredible barrage of media backfire. We're not talking about Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis, or Barry Bonds. This kid doesn't yet make the millions of dollars that those stars accrue as part of their job of dealing with antagonistic media hounds when they stick their foot in the mud either on or off the court. Until he is drafted by an NFL team, he is still unprofessional and does not deserve the onslaught of professional media attention, especially related to something that could potentially be a sensitive incident for those who were involved.

Manti Te'o has suddenly received for more attention for his online dating history than for his performance as a linebacker
To relate this to basketball, Carmelo Anthony was recently recorded on the court by Knicks owner James Dolan, who set up parabola mics near the court that would relay whatever Anthony was saying to a truck outside the arena, in order to decipher how much crap Melo takes during a given game from trash talkers and officials. This was instigated by a fight between Anthony and Kevin Garnett, who supposedly made derogatory remarks directed at Carmelo's wife Lala Vasquez. This form inside espionage has brought Dolan both criticism and praise from media outlets, and any notions that the Knicks organization was doing something illegal were shot down by David Stern, who was asked about it during a trip to London for the Knicks game against the Detroit Pistons, telling USA Today, "Anything that is said on my court is really subject to being picked up." So there ya' have it. Not only does Stern approve of Dolan's interrogative behavior, but he actually likes it for media purposes.

Who wouldn't want in on this conversation?

Now that we have entered the sports era of players being wired during games, tweeting on their off days, and publicizing their relationships, the media takes all this information and blows it all way out of proportion. No longer do we simply enjoy athletes for their on-court performance. The media, the fans, and team ownership must know everything about their players from what they're saying on the court when trash talking, to what they're tweeting, and who they're dating, whether they be real or imaginary.

So this is what happens when the social media and sports media collide and spin out of control. Manti Teo's alleged involvement in this online hoax has nothing to do with whether or not we should look at him as a victim or a villain. In this case, whether or not he was wrong for creating a fake story to spin to the media in order to garner the attention of Heisman trophy voters is not for us decide. Let the people close to him, and close to the situation decide that for us. And, whether or not he was victimized shouldn't even be a question, because he was, but not so much by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, his high school friend accused of orchestrating this well thought out prank, not by Diane O'Meara, the avatar supposedly posing as Manti's beautiful girlfriend dying of cancer and then miraculously coming back to life weeks later, but by a cruel and exploitative American media that has the ability to make any incident far more dramatic and devastating than it really has to be.