Sometimes being critical pays off, even if it’s just to have that “told you so” ammo stashed away in the back pocket, ready to whip out at a moment’s notice when truth catches up with blarney, or to avoid the feeling of crushing disappointment that comes at the same juncture as reality hits from being led astray.
In sports, heck, in all facets of life today, how can you be any other way … if you hope to maintain any modicum of sanity or any semblance of perspective?
Some words to the wise: Stop believing the hype. Whatever it is. Now.
Our latest uproar in the athletic realm may be among the most lame. From point shaving to performance-enhancing drugs, our BS cup has runneth over time and again. Yet, we keep going back for more in that ever-elusive, apparently never-ending hunt for pure glory, a true hero, some sort of salvation in a sports context. Who really knows why. But it continues with no end in sight.
We make judgments off character assessments or how good/bad a story sounds. We rip one guy and then rationalize for the next guy after they commit the same exact “crime.” In the court of public opinion, Sammy Sosa was more likable then Mark McGwire, so he was less guilty. McGwire was more likable than Barry Bonds, so he was less guilty. The sliding scale is nothing new, but it’s still silly.
For me, though, the real issue is linking personality, or the “person” we think an athlete is, to his performance – and grading that out based on how well he rates on our good-guy meters that are too often distorted by misinformation or wishful thinking.
Et tu, Manti?
Which brings us to our favorite All-American fairytale artist from Notre Dame, Manti Te’o, and his legion of loyal supporters. Forgive me my cynicism, but I never got wrapped up in his gut-wrenching angst over a double shot of personal loss, especially the death of his “girlfriend,” and how it propelled him to be this superman on the gridiron this past season for two reasons.
First, the former was his own business and the fact he made it public and continued to do so should have had red flags poking the nation’s consciousness right in the nose. Second, and more important to me, I never saw the latter that others seemed to imagine and turn into fact within their craniums.
Te’o was a big-name recruit for the Fighting Irish. He had a very good career. He had very good senior campaign in which he showed an incredible knack for being in the right place at the right time with regard to interceptions. He had seven all told, tying for second in the country in that category.
But he wasn’t great, or exceptional, by any stretch in 2012. He had better seasons as a sophomore and junior, to be perfectly blunt. Yet, he was championed as the proverbial “best player on the best team” in his Heisman quest, but, really, was he? Defensive end Stephon Tuitt and his 13 sacks may beg to differ.
Tuitt didn’t have the touching tale to strengthen his case, though. For that matter, neither did eventual Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, making for one of the most ridiculous challenges ever for college football’s top individual honor.
At a position – inside linebacker – that requires tackle production and hard-hitting impact plays, Te’o ranked 57th nationally in the former and hardly registered on the latter. He forced not a single fumble with that 6-2, 255-pound frame. He had just 5.5 tackles for loss. To gain a better perspective, consider that fellow linebackers Georgia’s Jarvis Jones had 24.5, Brigham Young’s Kyle Van Noy 22 and UCLA’s Anthony Barr 21.5.
Next year’s proposed defensive contender for the Heisman, South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney, had 23.5.
As far as total tackles go, two linebackers from Penn State outdid Te’o, as did two from Virginia, two from Boston College, and three from Houston. Eleven defensive backs outdid him there, too.
But he took home all the individual hardware a defender could possibly take.
Truth is, Te’o was not a force in 2012. He was a good story … because he had a good story.
To me, whether or not Te’o was in on the hoax is immaterial. Whether or not Lennay Kekua existed doesn’t matter.
What does is the fact that people took that tale and transferred it into creating another about his play on the field. All perspective was lost. Te’o became the greatest thing since sliced bread, no one could touch him between the lines, it was an outrage that he didn’t win the Heisman … and it, in essence, was all a lie.
Taking umbrage with the kid for either being a fool, a scam artist or some combo of the two, or with the “real mastermind” behind the Kekua fantasy, is just as inane as the whole thing being concocted.
You – the media, the fans, the on-again, off-again followers of sports who only tune in because of your love for the romantic spin – all bought it, perpetuated it and tried to shove it down the throats of anyone unfortunate enough to listen. All in the name of creating a hero, a superhero, a champion for all that we deem right in this world.
Get a grip, people. Stop glorifying athletes or athletic figures. Stop making excuses for them when they let you down because you just can’t accept that a hero would do that to you. Give up your rationalizations for unsaintly saints (hello, Penn State).
That “phony” or “attention (rhymes with store and begins with ‘wh’)” in regard to Te’o didn’t register one iota with most as the season progressed well beyond that tell-all night in September is astounding.
Him magically appearing in the tunnel at the L.A. Coliseum to shake hands with an injured Matt Barkley just moments before the Irish took on Southern California in their regular-season finale – with a television camera amazingly capturing the whole thing (wow, what incredible timing) – was about the most contrived, staged and “look at me” garbage we are liking to see outside of a pro wrestling ring.
Then again, not all of this was bad. The tale unfolding accomplished something worthwhile this week – it took some of the spotlight off the ultimate sports narcissist.
Te’o might need his own “coming out” on Oprah, though, to keep it that way.