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Steinberg: Te'o's fate unpredictable

January 19, 2013|By Leigh Steinberg

It was a love story for the ages, and America was transfixed.

Superstar Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o meets a beautiful Stanford coed after a game there and over the succeeding years they fall in love. There are reports of her visiting his family in Hawaii. But later, in 2012, she falls victim to leukemia and dies. Her last wish is that he not come to her funeral but instead excels in the game that Notre Dame has that Saturday. He calls her "the love of his life" and shares his grief with the nation. His grandmother dies on the same day.

What a tragic burden for a young man advertised by his university and the press as an exemplar of character. Notre Dame goes undefeated and plays in the national championship game. The story of Manti's lost love and his courage in the face of adversity is told and retold. He is a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. What drama, what pathos, sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Except for the fact that the woman never existed and most of the story is not true.

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This past week, Notre Dame released its version of the "cruel hoax" perpetrated on Manti. Evidently he received a call from the same phone his supposed dead fiancée had used and it was her voice. She wasn't dead. Notre Dame and Te'o waited over a month to go public with the story. A month, in which Te'o continued to tell the same public story about her death.

It seemed Stanford had no record of the woman's enrollment and Manti had never met her, just communicated by phone and social media.

We may never know the true facts of the situation, whether Te'o was innocent victim of a cruel hoax, or complicit in it. But there will be damage to a number of parties in the situation. Because of the repetitive news cycle with 24-hour CNN and ESPN coverage, enhanced by local news, talk radio and the Internet, this story will run over and over again. Until there is a credible explanation of the circumstances, an aggressive press will challenge facts and motivation endlessly.

Michael Vick and Tiger Woods discovered the self-destructive results of stonewalling the press and their images worsened.

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