Manti Te’o has spoken.
But will Friday night’s ESPN interview be enough to quell the firestorm of criticism that has erupted in the wake of Wednesday’s revelations that his dead girlfriend — a story that was a big part of not only his narrative, but that of the entire Notre Dame football team as it rolled through the 2012 regular season a perfect 12-0 — was a hoax?
Time will tell.
Public relation types will often tell you that when a story like this breaks, you either control it quickly, or it comes to control you. That was in danger of happening here, as every day Te’o remained silent was another day for doubts to form.
Friday night’s interview with ESPN, for some, will create more questions, simply by the way it was conducted: Off-camera, with only still photos permitted.
In fact, sports talk radio chatter Friday night/early Saturday morning was already picking up those questions and running with them — the main gripe being that with no video, it was impossible to evaluate Te’o’s body language during the interview.
When, in your attempt to answer questions, you end up creating more questions, that’s not a good thing.
The wait for a breathlessly announced special SportsCenter report on the interview was even longer than expected, as an NBA game leading into the report went into overtime.
But when the report finally aired, it was good to see that Te’o had spoken out.
Some are having trouble buying Te’o’s characterization of his relationship as one that existed online and on the phone only. It’s a foreign concept to many, to be sure.
But it’s one that younger people should be able to relate to.
Over the years, most of my relationships started out online. They eventually moved to telephone communication and some to an in-person meeting.
So I can certainly relate to Te’o’s assertions about how he conducted his relationship.
And I can also relate to him finding out that the person he thought he was getting to know was not who she appeared to be.
Sometimes, we see what we want to see, long past the time when we should see things for what they are.
That, I think, is what happened with Te’o.
He found himself embroiled in something that, at the end of the day, was not going to look good.
Did he handle it appropriately?
Probably not. However, as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is constantly reminding those of us who cover the team, these are 18-to-22-year-old kids.
Mistakes were made, to be sure. But those mistakes can be turned into a learning moment. And that’s what Te’o can and probably will do.
Te’o has a future awaiting him in the NFL. But before that happens, he will have to face more questions from potential NFL suitors about this issue, and how he handled it.
With the NFL’s newfound focus on character, the questions Te’o faces will be tough and pointed, but fair.
How he handles them will determine his future. Putting this issue behind him will be a good first step toward that future.
Contact sports editor David Vantress at 533-2151, ext. 325 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manti Te’o has spoken.
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