By Jim Weber
As deplorable as the Manti Te’o fake dead girlfriend hoax is, the most disturbing part of the whole scandal to me has been the public’s vitriol, which speaks so poorly of us as a whole and the society we live in today.
Just take a look around the internet at all of the anger with Te’o, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or the the comments sections of stories. Granted, these places are known to bring out the worst in society, but this schadenfreude and ill-will towards Te’o seems prevalent among the general public, too.
Personally, I believe Te’o is only guilty of lying about meeting Lennay Kekua as he said and greatly exaggerating the details of the relationship. But whether he’s telling the truth or not has been discussed ad nauseam over the past week and isn’t the point of this column.
Let’s just say he was behind this hoax to supposedly drum up publicity for himself. Yes, it would be one of the most insanely idiotic things an athlete has ever done. But I still wouldn’t hate Te’o for what would be a victimless “crime.”
Sure, I would feel much less sorry for Te’o and think he needs serious mental help. But my overwhelming feeling would still be empathy for a soon-to-be 22-year-old kid whose desperate cry for attention has forever altered his life and led to national ridicule that will follow him forever.
I get that part of this backlash against Te’o is in reaction to the way the media built him up as a “saint” – as literally described by Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans – but it really disturbs me that people want to believe Te’o is behind the hoax because of all the anger they are harboring against him.
Meanwhile, other athletes that have been proven (Michael Vick, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods) or accused (Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis) to have committed far, far worse misdeeds no longer face the amount of public scorn it appears Te’o will confront for years to come.
Look, I’m not asking for you to believe Te’o. But if you don’t, keep in mind that Te’o will pay a lifelong price for this hoax whether he was behind it or not. So stop yourself from passing judgment, condemning and hating a kid over this.
Because I find that the most reprehensible thing of all.