SBD/January 17, 2013/Colleges

Notre Dame Hoax Puts Spotlight On University, Media For Not Confirming Facts

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Te'o and his family were depicted by Notre Dame as the victims of the hoax
Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick held a “hastily called" press conference last night to tell the school's side of the story that LB Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend actually did not exist, according to a front-page piece by Eric Hansen of the SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE. However, the 39-minute press conference and the "singular source" of Swarbrick "weren't nearly enough to connect all the dots in what is now being characterized as a hoax in which Notre Dame casts Te'o and his family as victims, and Deadspin.com, which broke the story, paints the All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up as a likely co-conspirator."  Swarbrick went through a timeline of events on when the school was informed of the story and said that the gap between when Te'o received a call in Orlando that his alleged girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was in fact not dead on Dec. 6 and when he informed his coaches on Dec. 26 “existed because Teo first wanted to talk to his parents face to face when he went home for Christmas break.” Swarbrick was asked about the school's timing of coming forward and said, "We had no idea as to motive, and that was really significant to us. We're in a unique business here. Was there somebody trying to create an NCAA violation at the core of this? Was there somebody trying to impact the outcome of football games by manipulating the emotions of a key player? Was there an extortion request coming?”  Swarbrick said he was sorry that the "single-most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life." Swarbrick: "That's an incredible tragedy." (SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE, 1/17). Read the entire transcript from Swarbrick’s press conference.

GETTING THE FACTS: Notre Dame “hired a private firm to investigate after Te’o shared the details on Dec. 26.” Swarbrick said that after the report “came out Jan. 4, he shared it with Te’o’s parents in South Florida on Jan. 5, and the family had planned to release the story next week.” He said that there was “no evidence of criminal conduct or NCAA violations” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/17). In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff in a front-page piece notes in the “early stages of discovery, Notre Dame feared possible criminal activity and wondered about motive.” Swarbrick said that the university “considered but did not alert the police” (K.C. STAR, 1/17).  Notre Dame did not encourage Te'o "to set the record straight before the title game.” Instead, officials “sat silent while reporters prepared stories about Kekua's fake death, fake leukemia and fake Stanford degree.” Swarbrick said, "We encouraged him to try to focus forward and focus on the game" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/17).

JACK IN A BOX: In Chicago, Mark Lazerus notes the Deadspin story “never outright accused Te’o of being in on the hoax,” but it did cite a source "that said he was '80 percent sure that Te’o was "in on it," and that (he and a family friend) perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind'” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/17). Swarbrick “emphatically” said that he “did not believe Te'o was complicit in the scheme.” Swarbrick: "Every single thing about this, until that day in the first week of December, was real to Manti" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/17). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes Swarbrick's press conference last night was "uncomfortable" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/17). In Honolulu, Ferd Lewis writes in a front-page piece Swarbrick was “at times emotional” during the press conference (Honolulu STAR-ADVERTISER, 1/17). However, in Chicago, John Kass writes Notre Dame is “complicit in the lie,” and all the spinning last night by Swarbrick “can't change it” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/17). In South Bend, Al Lesar writes Te’o’s “professional handlers likely have him going over his version of this fiasco trying to salvage some shred of dignity, while not having his marketability impacted too much” (SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE, 1/17). Te'o is currently being repped by CAA (THE DAILY).

FILLING IN THE BLANKS: Deadspin's Timothy Burke said of breaking the story, “We got an e-mail last week that said, ‘There’s something fishy about Lennay Kekua, Manti Te’o’s alleged girlfriend. You guys should check it out.’ We found different outlets reporting different days that she had died” (“GMA,” ABC, 1/17). Burke said Deadspin today will publish a “full listing of some of the glaring discrepancies and contradictions in the reporting of this story ... that should have been an immediate red flag to anybody paying attention to college football news.” There were “five separate dates” that Kekua “allegedly died in major media services and somebody should have noticed this” (“Today,” NBC, 1/17). In Chicago, St. Claire & Hamilton write in a front-page piece the news “leaves a black mark on sports journalism, as many news outlets -- including the Tribune -- ran stories about Kekua's passing without verifying her death.” The Chicago Tribune also “published 15 articles mentioning her death in the past four months” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/17). In DC, Paul Farhi writes the media “took Te’o’s word for it without inquiring further.” ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski said, “In retrospect, you can see where some of those things weren’t adding up to make sense. It’s easy to say now, but at the time it never enters your mind that somebody was involved in that kind of hoax. We wanted to believe it so much” (WASHINGTON POST, 1/17).
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