Ross Lucksinger gives his obligatory
Manti Te’o column on the nature of myth in college football and the confirmation bias that led to the collective suckering of sports media.
LucksingerColumn>mack brown ERROR
brown [command-line: I just want to write a stupid off-season
coaching analysis column] ERROR TYPE:511
brown [ERROR TYPE:511] – Must write Manti
Te’o opinion to proceed.
C:>run applewhite schematic
analysis ERROR TYPE:511
C:>run offensive line breakdown ERROR TYPE:511
C:>run recruiting/2013 ERROR TYPE:511 Program type: Internet Columnist. Must write Manti Te’o opinion to proceed. Do you wish to proceed: Y/N?
Ok. Fine. Let’s do this.
Back in August, when I selected Frank
Herbert’s Dune (1965) for my Book of the Month feature, I
quoted Herbert, who wrote shortly before his death: “Dune
was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view
of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader’s
name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question.”
The novelist and journalist had
recognized a growing trend in the U.S. of myth-making out of
contemporary figures. Perhaps this is, as Neil Gaiman has explored, due to the relatively young age of
American civilization and our decided lack of ancient myths. Perhaps
it’s simply a product of technology and the way information is
Whatever the collective psychological
basis, the need for creation and consumption of these modern myths moves billions
in college football, which sells the work of unpaid amateurs to
maintain the purity of a wholly for-profit venture.
It’s why the entire college football
world was suckered into a hoax, and not even a good one.
Seriously. It was a Twitter profile.
There wasn’t even an obituary for Lennay Kekua. Or anything in
Stanford’s database. Anything! I had a friend at UT in the Longhorn
Band who created a fake student so he could get an extra meal on away
game trips. That “scheme” was of greater complexity than this. The lie should not have lasted just
from a pure logistical basis. But it did. It did because from a narrative
standpoint it was gold.
Confirmation bias demanded that it be
true. Notre Dame needed a champion to return the Irish to glory. A
hero was needed to slay the dragon of Alabama. A good guy was needed
for a soft focus ESPN piece with dramatic B-roll of someone sitting
alone in a stadium while Tom Rinaldi speaks…with grave
inflection…and dramatic pauses…like this.
What Te’o knew and when he knew it is
not yet known. It still needs to be sorted out whether he was caught
in a hoax and then let media run with it or if he was pushing for
hype or if he was embarrassed after being caught in a hoax and then
pushed the story or if he was complicit in the lie the entire time.
Either he is a vastly more complex individual than we suspected or,
according to Te’o and Notre Dame, a vastly more simple. But the failure
of modern sports media is known, and it is total.
Not that this will change anything. It
didn’t change after Paterno and it won’t change now. ESPN will come
out of this fine. The story will be twisted to focus on the lies and not on those who allowed
it. Te’o will talk about it in an ESPN exclusive, cry, and get a book
deal (by the way, Manti, I will totally ghost-write that if you
want). No blame for the enablers, simply, “Look how you’ve wronged
us,” “we have always been at war with East Asia,” etc.
ESPN will be fine. Sports
Illustrated and others who market themselves as competent
investigative organizations, not so much. This was one of the factors that prompted Pete Thamel to
release every single word Te’o said to him about his fake dead
girlfriend in attempt to piece together what happened.
Contrition is valuable, certainly, but
reflection is more important. That’s what prevents lies from
spiraling into a fiction borne of nothing but our own desire for a
As a journalist, I know it’s caused me
to reflect. For most of Wednesday afternoon I sat staring blankly at
my computer screen and questioning everything anyone ever told me in
an interview. Is there anything I accepted blindly I should have
looked into? Are there any lies I’ve sold?
I hope it causes everyone in the
industry to reflect so that something on this scale of terrible gets
cut off by a beat reporter who knows how to use LexisNexis before it
turns into a national-level scam. Because nothing good has come from
Well…not nothing. At least someone
didn’t, in fact, die of leukemia.
I call that a win.