MCCULLOUGH: Sports journalists dropped ball on fake girlfriend story

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

Sports journalists dropped the ball on Manti Te'o fake girlfriend story

I can't begin to imagine where the path of the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend story is going to lead, but I really hope it leads to the truth. But can we be sure it will?

Apparently, the website Deadspin.com is the only home of journalists in the national sports media willing to ask hard questions, or easy ones for that matter. Or to even ask questions at all. And even they had to be tipped off.

Whether Te'o was the victim or a participant in this hoax remains to be seen. But how news outlets from college newspapers to ESPN and Sports Illustrated could commit such fundamental journalistic errors is baffling.

The story is (was) one of those inspirational tearjerkers, a highlight of the college football season -- it could've been the script of "Rudy 2." A star football player has a phenomenal season, almost wins the Heisman trophy and plays for a national championship after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend within a few hours. The girlfriend was in a car crash and then died from leukemia. It was enough to make the screenwriters for "Brian's Song" weep.

Only, unlike "Brian's Song," it wasn't true. The girlfriend never even existed. And no one outside of Deadspin, during an entire college football season, felt the need to, oh, I don't know, ask to see the girlfriend.

How about talking to her family? Any hospitals remember her being there? Doctors' reports? Maybe there were some friends who could lend some color to the story. Did any Notre Dame players ever talk to her?

Why did no one at Stanford notice that she wasn't a student there? No one ran an obituary when she died. No one thought it strange that a man would choose to play football instead of going to his girlfriend's funeral? And if they did, why didn't anyone think to ask her family what they thought about that?

The questions are endless. And none of them were asked. So that begets this question: Why?

Was the story just too good? Or was it just too much trouble to check it out? It's so hard to believe that no one dug a little deeper, if for no other reason than if it was true, the story was owed a better telling than just the on-the-surface feel-good quotes delivered by Te'o himself. (Who, by the way, in claiming to have had a close relationship with the phantom Lennay Kekua despite never having met in person, makes me ask this question: What kind of a boyfriend are you? Car crash? Leukemia? Bone marrow transplant? Not one visit? You don't play football every day of your life.)

A story like that begged for quotes from the girlfriend's family, fellow students and friends. Who was this person who so selflessly told her big, strong man that the best tribute he could pay her was to go be a warrior, to play the best football he could play?

The answer, of course, was she wasn't anybody because she simply wasn't.

Notre Dame has known about this since late December, so I'm sure the school's and Te'o's statements have both been sitting on the launching pad, just waiting to be fired at this story when somebody finally broke it. In the days that come, as the details emerge, the story may get even stranger. Or murkier. But at least it's out in the open now.

Too bad that didn't happen sooner.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.