On one end of the Scouting Combine media center at Lucas Oil Stadium, several hundred reporters gathered around a podium. Like jackals to a carcass, they were waiting to hear the embarrassing details regarding Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s fictitious girlfriend.
About 80 feet away sat Te’o’s former Notre Dame teammate, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Three reporters sat around Lewis-Moore at a small table.
Asked about Te’o, Kapron-Lewis firmly stated: “Manti’s a great guy, a great leader.”
Call Te’o what you want. Call him naïve. Call him immature.
I call it journalism at its lowest and human nature at its worst.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he told the throng of reporters. “I’ve been in front of a few cameras, but not as many as this.”
If he thought that was crazy, there’s this: One day, his sister had to sneak their parents into their home in Hawaii to avoid the swarm of ambulance-chasing reporters loitering outside.
“It should never get that way,” Te’o said. “As people, we have to realize that we’re all people. Somebody is somebody’s son, somebody is somebody’s daughter. And I try to picture it that way. Would you want somebody doing that to your son? Would you want somebody doing that to your daughter? If not, why do it?”
Is it bizarre to fall in love with someone – a man pretending to be a woman, in this case – through nothing but phone conversations and e-mails? Sure. Does it bring great joy to tear someone down who’s done great things on and off the field? Sadly, yes.
Here’s what gets me: Te’o didn’t break any laws. He didn’t kill anyone. He wasn’t involved in dog fighting. He didn’t sexually assault a woman. He didn’t get busted for drunken driving. He didn’t steal computers from a public school. He didn’t get kicked off the team for breaking team rules. He didn’t beat up anyone. He didn’t fail multiple drug tests. The last five items on that list, by the way, were done by other players at this year’s Combine.
The All-American linebacker got duped. The finalist for the Heisman Trophy got suckered. The winner of the Senior CLASS Award, which goes to the player who shines brightest on the field, classroom and community, got conned. If that makes you feel good, if it makes you giggle, then good for you.
You’ve heard the one about glass houses and stones, right?
“It got overwhelming at times,” Te’o said. “The hardest part was just to see, not necessarily my first name, but my last name. Everybody here, you treasure your last name. That’s what you hold dear. That’s something that when you pass on, the only thing that stays with you, stays here is your last name. To see your last name everywhere and know I represented my family and all my cousins and aunties and uncles.”
To be sure, general managers like Green Bay’s Ted Thompson will have their work cut out for them. The Packers were one of the two teams who had interviewed Te’o before his Saturday media session and one of 20 teams on Te’o’s schedule.
The football stuff will be relatively easy, and the Scouting Combine testing will help scouts put some crucial context into Te’o’s subpar performance against Alabama in the championship game.
The non-football stuff will be the challenge. The Combine will be helpful there, too, between the team interviews and simply watching how he interacts with his peers. If Te’o passes those tests, then it will be up to the teams to determine how Te’o would fit in a locker room. And that’s a two-way street. Would he be an outcast? The butt of jokes? Or does it simply come down to whether he can play? If he can play and fit in with his teammates, none of this will matter.
“They want to be able to trust their player,” Te’o said. “You don’t want to invest in somebody you can’t trust. With everybody here, they’re just trying to get to know you, get to know you as a person and as a football player. I understand where they’re coming from.”
Lewis-Moore knows Te’o well. And his opinion should speak volumes.
“He’s a great dude,” Lewis-Moore said. “I’ve been playing beside him for three years. It’s not going to affect him. He’s a great leader. Whoever get a chance to draft Manti is going to have an excellent player.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.