We start here, with the words of Ty Duffy from The Big Lead:
“The sports media gets caught up with these tidy hero narratives. These narratives captivate the imagination, raise the blinders and lead to gratuitously lazy journalism.”
That was the Te’o story, a bunch of overly-trusting writers skimming over discrepancies because well, the alternative is time-consuming and possibly offensive and journalism. But I won’t rehash Duffy’s entire premise here – instead, his points are a launch pad for a second, emerging narrative that mirrors its source and alibis the entire practice of hero journalism itself: Manti Te’o’s redemption, again.
Gene Wojciechowski, who conducted that ESPN interview with Te’o you’ve seen 400 million times on repeat, doesn’t believe Te’o was in on it. Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel, who has been similarly crucified for his thick, heroic brushstrokes, said on the Dan Patrick Show today that he thinks Te’o was wholeheartedly duped, clinging to the vestiges of Te’o’s gift-wrapped image. All of which is to emphasize two things: first, that sportswriter x, whether at Sports Illustrated or ESPN or the South Bend Tribune, or whichever outlet that was undermined by non-intensive fact checking, can salvage their own journalistic reputations. But there’s a secondary undercurrent in play, because Te’o-as-victim sets in motion the exact narrative we’re claiming to decry: Manti Te’o, tragic casualty of misfortune that overcomes.
Te’o will be drafted by some team. That team will hold press conferences, explain their decision and be possibly lauded for investing in a fallen hero. And Te’o is a great football player – no one can really dispute this – so he might go on to have a great career. The interviews will come, again, what Te’o learned, how he’s different now, a flurry of platitudes peddling digestible bullshit. The stuff that melts one hero story into another. And that’s the horribly ironic part of all this, that Te’o could, in theory, be once agin propped up by a new batch of the same people. Because our court-of-law standards are, by default, setting up another hero.