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Lance Armstrong, Manti Te'o, Sports, Lies, and the Whys.

My mother once said to me that a liar is a thief. She meant that if a person lies to you, then they’d steal anything from you: your money, your heart, your belief.

As we’ve watched the strange narratives of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o unfold these past few days, I cannot help but think of what the hyper-competitive worlds of sports and manhood have done to us in America. When I was a youth coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s the seeds of my life-long love for athletics were planted: I formally played baseball and ran track and cross country, and participated in every other sport one can name in school courtyards or in my neighborhood. Yes, you wanted to win whether we were in an organized setting or if we were kicking it with our homeboys. But equally important to us was the joy of the action itself: being able to express who we were by the way we hit or shot or tossed or kicked one ball or another.

I am not certain when mindless competition and the winning-is-what-matters attitude began to devour American sports and American athletes. But I suspect it parallels the popularity explosion of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Mike Tyson, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, and other otherworldly figures in the 1980s and 1990s. Because of the growth spurt of media into global multimedia, coupled with revolutionary shifts in technology, suddenly athletes were no longer mere athletes. They had become our heroes, our role models, our leaders, and, heck, our saviors. Where we once looked to political leaders and musical artists to speak to us and for us, the modern American athlete, particularly the males, has now assumed that position. The likes of The Beatles will never be seen again, and does not have to be. Today “The Beatles” are these athletes, with the same gigantic impact as those boys from Liverpool, thanks in part to how they are fed to us as super-human mythologies.

When I think about Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o I think about the consequences of elevating these athletes to cult status. As Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey, his post-cancer cycling career was built on blatant lies. Whether Armstrong is truly sorry or not I do not know, nor am I hear to judge. But what I do think of are the people he duped and otherwise attempted to destroy in one manner or another just to keep his rep. That is manhood gone mad, and so weighted by ridiculous goals and expectations that you would rather cheat and lie than to live an honest day doing the best you can, whether you win or lose. Imagine, for a moment, if Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, had merely raced in the Tour de France and finished, even it was last? Is that not compelling enough for us?

And then there is this peculiar case of Manti Te’o. I followed his heroic journey throughout Notre Dame’s charmed and undefeated regular season. Equally charming is Te’o’s life montage: a Samoan American from Hawaii. A scholar-athlete, well spoken, charismatic; a gentleman, an active and concerned community member. A Mormon with deep spiritual roots. All-American, and the most decorated defensive player in college football history. An automatic first-round draft pick.

But is Manti, like Lance, a liar, making up the existence of a girlfriend who died a mere 6 hours after his grandmother really died last September? Or was he the victim of an elaborate hoax, as he and Notre Dame officials are claiming? We do not know for sure because he has only made one short statement. Meanwhile, these questions confront him:

Why did Te'o tell reporters before the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 8th that he "lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer," when two days earlier the woman he thought was dead called him on his cell?

Why did Manti tell a Sports Illustrated reporter in October that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua came to one of his games then issue a statement this week stating that he never met her?

Who is now behind one of the Twitter accounts associated with Lennay Kekua, a woman who never lived, let alone died, in September before Te'o played one of the biggest games of the 2012 season?

There is no record of Kekua ‘s life or death, or her being a Stanford University student, as has been reported. Local and national outlets participated in the hoax, even going so far as quoting Manti’s father about the relationship and in-person meetings, and helping to perpetuate a feel-good episode of a gifted athlete playing like an undaunted warrior through the double losses of his grandmother and his girlfriend.

In the case of Lance Armstrong we now know, conclusively, that he is liar and thief. No, we cannot take away the amazing things his foundation, Livestrong, has done for cancer survivors worldwide. But as I watched his Oprah interview I thought of the rationales I’ve heard about the mafia, or drug dealers in America’s ghettos: yes, they do a lot of bad things and hurt a lot of folks, but look at them giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving, presents at Christmas, or providing other aid for those in need. In other words the ends justify the means has become part and parcel of our culture. That, to me, is borderline insanity.

Beyond this, it is a pathology when someone would go to that extent to fictionalize who he is, to win, to be famous, to be rich, to be powerful. Lance Armstrong’s fall, which I do not wish on anyone, is ugly, it is catastrophic. And it was destined to happen.

So now we wonder in the same vein if Manti Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, a role model to Samoans and Americans of all persuasions, is Lance Armstrong, too? As I finish this blog it is being reported that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who has been publicly identified as being behind the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, called a church friend in early December with a tearful confession that he was responsible.

But Manti still needs to speak, too, because his words will help to set him free from this media nightmare. Let us hope he handles this in the way we wish Lance Armstrong would have.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Manti And Lance (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MKinTN, a2nite, TX Unmuzzled, DvCM

    His situation is so complicated and filled with lots of turns.   I've heard suggestions of everything from him being completely duped to him needing a 'beard' to him playing for Heisman votes.  

    He does need to speak up about it more in full, but his situation is more on the level of a private emberrassment.  No one that we know of was in any way hurt by him believing in a fake girlfriend.  

    The man who has come forward in his case reportedly duped others to participate in this hoax.  If that's how it played out, then shame on all of them.  

    I have no problem with Manti issuing a statement saying: "I'm too personally embarrassed, and after some time I may talk about this but for now.."  

    In the case of Lance Armstrong, I don't even give enough credit to Livestrong.  Livestrong has a pretty poor overhead to donation ratio, and Lance Armstrong had an opportunity to speak out about men's cancer: prostate and testicular cancer which he had.  They are significant killers because men don't go to the doctors and get checked and some of the best advice for testicular cancer detection is creepy to them.

    If Lance Armstrong would have got up and said:   "It sounds uncomfortable, but as a man who fought off testicular cancer, I'm telling you: feel your balls.  If you feel lumps or uneveness or if your scrotum is hard and sore, you need to be checked.  If you experience pain or discomfort during ejaculation, you need to be checked. "  Because those are all completely proven methods.

    Armostrong's LiveStrong did some good.. but whereas the breast cancer iniative had no problem telling women how to self exam and be aware - which is not very accurate, the key signs to testicular cancer are VERY accurate signs and I didn't see Lance get up at any turn and speak to any of them.

    So, I don't give him credit for much.   Outside of making other people's lives miserable, and when faced with a girlfriend suffering breast cancer dumping her and running.  

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 10:20:39 AM PST

    •  Scott Hamilton DID tell US men "get checked" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tmservo433, DvCM

      But then, there have been far fewer lies about, or by, little Scotty.

      Psst, guys, when an Olympic gold medalist gives you some health advice - listen up. Maybe he knows something. Especially if he's a survivor himself.

      If it's
      Not your body,
      Then it's
      Not your choice
      And it's
      None of your damn business!

      by TheOtherMaven on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 11:21:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Most men survive testicular cancer. (0+ / 0-)

      It's got an 80% survival rate even among men who get chemotherapy, even if the cancer is malignant and spread widely.  It's got a 90% overall survival rate, and a near-100% survival rate among men who seek treatment before the cancer metastasizes.  It's also somewhat common in younger men, like Armstrong and Scott Hamilton (or Anthony Ryan Auld, winner of last night's Project Runway All-Stars).

      Prostate cancer, on the other hand, is a killer, particularly of men 45 and older.  It's not nearly as survivable.

      •  You are correct (0+ / 0-)

        I'm talking about most mens cancer.   Testicular cancer is very survivable as long as detection occurs before it spreads.. which is at a very good rate.

        Prostate cancer not so much because guys don't get checked.  

        Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

        by Chris Reeves on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 05:40:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Just ask Pete Rose. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 10:23:35 AM PST

  •   ..... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vtjim, jhecht, mookins, BlackSheep1

    The real question is, WHO GIVES A FUCK?

  •  In The Te'o Case..... (8+ / 0-)

    There are three basic explanations.

    Two of those explanations are tragic, voyeuristic, and arguably nobody's business (although, by using the story as promotion in the press, that argument may be gone). However, the third possible explanation probably gives the press enough cover to keep asking questions about the situation & probably what will keep the story alive for a bit.

    • Explanation 1: Te'o is telling the truth & he was the victim of a horrible "Catfish" hoax. The discrepancies in both his & his family's story may be explained as mistakes/embellishments.
    • Explaination 2: Instead of being a victim of a hoax, Te'o (who's a Mormon going to a renowned Catholic school) concocted the relationship to dissuade inquiries into his personal life. The long-distance relationship provides an answer to "why don't you have a girlfriend?" and the story of a girlfriend being sick with cancer gives a credible excuse for why the long-distance girlfriend wouldn't be attending games, especially when he's playing at her school (Stanford) or in big nationally televised events. While the deception would still be wrong, this explanation is also tragic, since it would be an example of guy so afraid of what people might think about him that he went to these kinds of lengths.
    • Explanation 3: Here's the tricky one... The story was fabricated by Te'o and/or his backers as a stunt to increase his chances at winning the Heisman (which he came in second in balloting for), and raise a positive national profile to increase marketability & his draft chances for the NFL.

    Both the second & third explanations would be bad for him both professionally & personally, but I think the third one would probably be the most damning to him, as far as public reputation. And, fair or not, you can bet private investigators for various NFL teams are going to be digging into this before a first round draft pick is used on him.
    •  And then there's Explanation 1A (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Renee, CoExistNow, ColoTim, DvCM

      That he was hoaxed, found out about the hoax, but he got so hooked on the attention that he couldn't let it go even after he found out he was scammed. That could be a red flag for some NFL organizers that he was more about the publicity than the team.

      Of course, the biggest problem is the impression that young men, and especially athletes, should be out there bedding a different babe every night. If we're ever to get beyond our current sexist attitudes and the general "rape culture", we need to teach our young men as well as our young women that it's okay to say "No" to sex if they're really not interested, and it doesn't make them a bad person or gay or whatever.

      "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

      by Cali Scribe on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 10:50:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Or Explanation 4: He's a Pathological Liar. (0+ / 0-)

      I don't mean that quite in the pejorative sense, either.  I've got a friend from elementary school who's a chronic liar.  He's got an LDR with the truth.  The latest round involved claiming to have contracted a cancer that was going to kill him within six months, that the doctors didn't know what to do with him, etc. etc. etc., but it "miraculously disappeared" on its own about five and a half months into the charade.  As Judge Marilyn Milian says, "I wouldn't trust him if his tongue came notarized."  When we were teenagers, it was whoppers about how the world was going to end in a week, and yeah, he had the LDR "girlfriend", too--from Michigan or Ohio or somewhere.

      Such people exist.  Maybe it's attention-seeking, maybe it's just they can't tell the truth, or maybe they can't distinguish their own truths from their own fantasies.  I don't know.

      Manti T'eo's story smacks of that.  It's incoherent and it's got a lot of gaps and inconsistencies.

      •  I've followed Te'o since he was in high school (0+ / 0-)

        as I grew up in South Bend and still follow the football and basketball programs closely. It would be a complete break with everything he has previously done in his life. From what I can tell & from what everyone who is close to him says, he's one of the most genuine people you'll ever meet.

    •  Personally, I don't buy the "he was hoaxed" (0+ / 0-)

      angle - after all, he was a student at a top university.

      And I'm sure they must have some pretty stringent admission standards . . .. you know, that weed out idiots of the type that might fall for this very thing.

  •  My wish (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1, lucid, TX Unmuzzled, TexDem

    If only people would get this irate about things that really matter. Would love to see an asshole like Lloyd Blankfein help up to this type of public ridicule, professional banishment, etc... as some guy who rode a bike around  while taking EPO or some dude who played college football and lied about having a hot girlfriend.

    Just another day in Oceania.

    by drshatterhand on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 10:52:41 AM PST

  •  I'm a bike racing fan (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, Roadbed Guy

    And I will say that watching Lance win his last three Tour de France's was wonderful. Watching him tear up the mountains of France was a sight to see especially if you ride and understand just how difficult it is.  I can forgive him for the doping because most of his top competitors were doping. What I can't forgive is the way he destroyed anyone who accused him of doping and the cycling press let him get away with it.

    We have a serious hero worship problem in this country, athletes can do no wrong and this really needs to change.

  •  In the case of Manti (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would hope the readers of this site would have more empathy given the history of punking Dkos has experienced.

    Deadspin did not do their homework. After Te'o and his parents ascertained that he had been the victim of an elabote hoax, they contacted the ND coaches & administration. An investigation was conducted completely verifying Manti's accounting of the events. Watch Swarbrick's presser. The university is NOT going to issue statements like that unless they know the facts of the case.

    Just today Tuiasosopo, the perpetrator of the hoax, admitted as much. There is also an excellent interview with Te'o's uncle that surfaced last night who not only knows Tuiasosopo but given his knowledge of him is sure this was headed toward extortion.

    And to your question - why perpetuate the myth two days after receiving a call from your supposed dead girlfriend? What the hell would you do if you were in national spotlight? Would you not try to figure out what the hell was going on first?  

    He deserves our empathy for having been put through a terrible hoax, not an errant media frenzy increasing his embarrassment.

  •  New twist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Honolulu Star-Advertiser posted a story Friday saying Te’o's fictitious girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, called Te’o on Dec. 6 and told he she faked her death to evade drug dealers.

    And we're officially off the rails.

    Te’o and Kekua had been dating since 2011 when Kekua supposedly passed away in September after a short bout with leukemia. Te’o, heartbroken, used several media outlets to tell the story of his girlfriend and the inspiration she provided him, but said this week he did not know she did not exist. He did acknowledge that their relationship was online and on the phone and that he had never actually met Kekua in person.

    So, imagine Te’o’s surprise when Kekua, who has been dead for nearly three months, calls Te’o and tells him her tale of woe.

    According to the article, Kekua – or whoever the person is posing as Kekua – tried to start the relationship back up again, but Te’o was leery of it. He asked Kekua to send him a photo with a date stamp on it so he could verify that was really her. She sent him the photo, but it was not enough to convince him. In the following weeks, he went to his family and coaches and told them he had been the victim of a hoax that began in 2009.

    The choice of our lifetime: Mitt Romney, It Takes A Pillage or President Barack Obama, Forward Together.

    by FiredUpInCA on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:46:42 PM PST

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