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Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o speaks during media day for the 2013 BCS National Championship NCAA football game in Miami, Florida in this January 5, 2013 file photograph. Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, whose on-field excellence after his grandmother and online girlfriend purportedly died made him a hero in the sports media, was the victim of a hoax because the girl never existed, the university said on January 16, 2013. (JEFF HAYNES/REUTERS)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o speaks during media day for the 2013 BCS National Championship NCAA football game in Miami, Florida in this January 5, 2013 file photograph. Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, whose on-field excellence after his grandmother and online girlfriend purportedly died made him a hero in the sports media, was the victim of a hoax because the girl never existed, the university said on January 16, 2013. (JEFF HAYNES/REUTERS)

Daily Grind

Dowbiggin: Te'o's 'dying girlfriend', a hoax and the gullible media Add to ...

From the fine folks who brought you Lance Armstrong, Perfect Human, we now have college football star Manti Te’o of Notre Dame, Imaginary Lover. And the subsidiary tale, the Gullible Media.

If you thought the Armstrong saga wasn’t warped enough, social media has now produced star ND linebacker Manti Te’o, expected to go in the top ten of the NFL draft in April, and a girlfriend Lennay Kekua he’d been “seeing” since 2009. A girlfriend who died tragically of cancer at the season’s apex, just six hours after the death of his (real) grandmother, Annette Santiago. A girlfriend who turns out to never have existed.

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This, in spite a social media backstory of how the Hawaiian Te’o met Kekua after a game at Stanford, her near-fatal car crash, her diagnosis and death from cancer and enough details about her funeral to rival Love Story. Sample from a supposedly dying Kekua urging her man to stay for the big game with Michigan State: “Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you’ll stay there and you’ll play and you’ll honor me through the way you play.”

Kekua then “died”, and Te’o, who had 12 tackles and two interceptions in the game, told his followers about sending two white roses to place on her coffin and the precise time when they closed her coffin in California. “All she wanted was some white roses. So I sent her roses and sent her two picks along with that.”

Please, hold your applause. Te’o’s family was apparently onside.“They started out as just friends,” Te’o’s father, Brian, told the South Bend Tribune last October. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there.”

Kekua never visited Hawaii because Kekua never existed. The avatar on the site was a total stranger who never knew her likeness was being used. But that didn’t stop major media outlets from ESPN to CBS to Sports Illustrated buying into this heartbreaking tale of the linebacker and the lady. (“They talk on the phone nightly, said ESPN , the TV rightsholder for NCAA football).

They laid it on with a trowel about the dying coed as Te’o’s Fighting Irish headed to the national championship game with a perfect 12-0 record, only to be curb-stomped by Alabama.

Wednesday, the website Deadspin reported in exacting detail about a media fraud perpetrated on or by Te’o. It alleged a friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, was the person behind the fake Kekua sites. What isn’t clear is whether, as Te’o and Notre Dame now claim, Te’o was the victim of a hoax or (as Deadspin suggests) in on the publicity scam.

What is true is that Te’o and his family allowed stories about meeting the mystery lady and other intimate details to be published without protest. That Notre Dame apparently knew of the impending story but hushed it up going into the Jan. 7 game against Alabama (begging questions if it might have affected the outcome).

And no one, neither Te’o nor ND, made any attempt to correct the media record as major outlets outdid themselves to top the story. Game. Set. Match.

If it’s too good to be true...

As with Armstrong’s extended immunity in the media against drug charges, the Te’o fabrications show gaping holes in the journalistic practices of mainstream media icons. Facts were not checked, nor details corroborated in the rush to be first with a story that hit all the right notes in the empathy culture. For instance, none of SI, CBS or ESPN actually met Kekua or her family to back up the fairytale romance.

Wishing a story so is not enough to make it so. If someone wished to embarrass an MSM industry already in a death struggle for its credibility, the Te’o story couldn’t have been more perfect.

Tweet nothings

@ dowbboySo Manti T’eo’s has an imaginary girlfriend. Fellow Hawaiian Prez Obama had made-up girlfriends, too. What do they put in the water there?”

If you can make it there...

Seems like the only good CFL hero in southern Ontario is a departed CFL hero. The region of Canada most immune to the charms of three-down football has been roused by the news that head coach Marc Trestman is leaving the Montreal Alouettes for a similar position in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.

As if the only validation that a CFL coach or player can have is being hoovered up by some NFL club. Thus Trestman joins Cameron Wake, Mervyn Fernandez, Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Brandon Browner, Stefan Logan and Tom Dimitroff who became legitimate football names in Toronto and environs by leaving the country.

Now we will have Canadian media sources trooping to Chicago or San Diego (where former CFLer Mike McCoy is the Chargers new head coach) to bring the vicarious experience to those pining for the NFL in Canada. That’ll be nice for the NFL wanna’ haves in Toronto. For them, nothing succeeds like success elsewhere.

Outside the box

Trestman’s hire is notable because the CFL often acts like an attic for the NFL, a good place to store stuff you’ll never use. The selection by new Chicago GM Phil Emery, however, is in keeping with teams going off the board to find the edge in a league where clubs with QBs not named Brady or Manning must scramble to find the smallest edge.

“It’s a new era of quarterbacks tutored since high school in pro-style offences,” says Sportsnet’s football analyst Arash Madani, who once worked in the CFL. “You need coaches like Jim Harbaugh (in San Francisco) who can get the most out of them. You can’t do that by recycling the same old names.”

Trestman, a trained lawyer, worked with Bears’ QB Jay Cutler before the combines in his draft year. Motivating the enigmatic Cutler with a creative offence is seen as key to the Bears’ progress. He’s also coached Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Rich Gannon and then this Mexican American guy who is now maybe the greatest QB ever in the CFL (help me with the name).

He’s worked at the NFL and NCAA level as an assistant. Plus he won two Grey Cups in that quaint league to the north.

Madani calls Trestman “unflappable”, a talent that will help him in the Bears’ madhouse. He will also bring his CFL experience with him. “If you watched his practices with the Als they were always up-tempo, no wasted motion, a great teaching format. He almost had to slow the players down when it came to game day. He’ll bring that to Chicago, I’m sure.”

dowbboy@shaw.ca / @dowbboy

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