Friday, August 19, 2016

Notre Dame's loose end

I wrote this long ago, deleted it when I applied to Notre Dame, and republished it today when a colleague mentioned the Manti Te'o story.

Deadspin reported Wednesday that former Notre Dame Heisman candidate Manti Te'o's tragic yet uplifting story involving his girlfriend Lennay Kekua's death and her previous existence was a hoax. If you keep up with any type of news, you already knew this. The story's development since Wednesday has led to speculation as to who was behind the hoax. 

Some think Te'o killed off his fake girlfriend on Sept. 12 to boost his Heisman status. Te'o said Friday that he began to receive phone calls from his fake, deceased girlfriend on Dec. 6 but continued to refer to her with the media because he was not convinced of the hoax until Deadspin broke the story this week. He also said that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and two others were behind the mostly online hoax and apologized to him via, of course, Twitter. Deadspin reported that Te'o and Tuiasosopo had been friends.


This is all very confusing. Details will continue to emerge in the coming days that will clarify the participation of Te'o, Tuiasosopo and a couple others. What I fear is that Notre Dame's participation will be deemphasized or omitted.


ESPN and The Washington Post reported evidence that Notre Dame could be guilty of perpetuating what it knew to be a hoax. 

Dan Tudesco, a 2006 graduate who now works in public relations in New York, set up an online account at fundraising website indiegogo.com on Jan. 9 to solicit $5,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Inc. The initial pitch said donations would go to the society in memory of Lennay Kekua, who reportedly died last fall, and in honor of Te’o, “two individuals who have been an inspiration to us through an iconic season.”
The story goes on to explain Notre Dame's support of Tudesco's effort.
Notre Dame took notice of Tudesco’s tweets about the fund drive and sent a university videographer to shoot an interview with him. The video was posted on the Notre Dame athletics YouTube channel Tuesday.
The Tuesday referred to is Tuesday, Jan. 15, which was one day before Deadspin broke its story. And here is the kicker.
However, Notre Dame officials said Wednesday that they became aware of the hoax on Dec. 26, nearly two weeks before the championship game.
Notre Dame said it did not announce the hoax on or after Dec. 26 because the Te'o family had expressed its own desire to do so once it had collected enough information from investigators. Fine. But 20 days after Dec. 26 it promoted a fund drive that had been started in memory of Kekua. The day after this promotion, Deadspin broke the story. Notre Dame's press conference immediately followed in which athletic director Jack Swarbrick did an excellent job of showing that Te'o was a victim and the university was a bystander.

It is true that the fund drive was also in honor of Te'o. Notre Dame certainly had an interest in showing support, in public and private, for its possibly victimized star. But was it really in Te'o's best interest to show support for a fund that perpetuated the very fabrication of which he was known to be a victim?


ESPN, The Washington Post and perhaps other outlets have posed this question, but Notre Dame has not yet answered it. Swarbrick did answer a related question at the press conference.

Reporter: The day of the national championship game when you guys had knowledge of this, there was a pre game special on the news morning show about his story. Did you guys know they were planning on doing that? Did you do anything to try to talk them out of that? How did you handle that situation? 
Swarbrick: Where did it air?
Reporter: I think it was a CBS morning show.
Swarbrick: I'm not familiar with it, so I guess the quick answer is since I didn't know it, I, we didn't -- We were very conscious of the fact that we didn't know what we didn't know. We recognized the challenge of that. If Manti got a question in a media session, you know, about that, how do you respond to that? We recognize the challenge of that and we weighed those difficulties against, on the other hand, these other issues that affected timing. I'll say one thing. When the investigation concluded, when we got the first report from the investigators, the one thing we were certain of is that this was coming out. There was too much online chatter about it. There was not an intention, a belief, anything that this would be a story that didn't get told. It was clear it would. We had hoped the first person to tell it would be Manti, and again, the expectation was that was going to happen next week. He didn't get that opportunity without someone else having told the story.
Later another reporter probed at a possible cover up.
Reporter: Did Notre Dame notify any law enforcement agency or the enforcement arm of the NCAA?
Swarbrick: No, there's no factual predicate for an NCAA violation that we could find. That of course was one of our important focuses early on. No, we did not refer this to criminal authorities. We shared, as I said, all of our information with the Te'os, who in turn shared it with their representatives to pursue it further.
Reporter: Considering at the very least somebody was harassing a star player for the university and potentially there could have been an extortion component to this . . . Why didn't Notre Dame contact law enforcement?
Swarbrick: We believed that was the victim's decision to make, and Manti was the victim here. He and his family in consultation with whomever they choose to consult with had that decision to make. We were not the victim. We've been impacted, but I don't want to confuse this at all. Manti Te'o was the victim of this scam.
Reporter: Was there a discussion about contacting law enforcement?
Swarbrick: Yes, there was a discussion of any response that might be appropriate.
Reporter: Do you still think that was the right decision, based on what's happened to this point? 
Swarbrick: I do.
You be the judge.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

An in-stadium perspective of the botched offside call at the ACC Championship

ADDENDUM: An earlier version of this post suggested that the ACC was incorrect in stating that offside on a kickoff is not reviewable. The ACC was actually correct in stating that offside on a kickoff is not reviewable. NCAA Rule 12, Article 4(b) reads:

Article 4: Reviewable plays involving kicks include: (b) Player beyond the neutral zone when kicking the ball.

The correct interpretation is that only the kicker's position can be reviewed. This would only apply to punts since a kicker can never be offside.

Yesterday the Tar Heels were robbed of a chance to send the ACC Championship game into overtime when a referee threw a flag for a recovered onside kick offside that never happened. Carolina would have trailed by eight with the ball at midfield, all three timeouts remaining and 1:11 to go. Carolina didn't play well enough to deserve to win, but I still don't feel like we lost. For me, the game will always feel unfinished.

Everyone in the world now knows that not a single Tar Heel was anywhere close to being offside on the play. Video replay would not have been necessary to reverse the call; a simple still shot with kicker Freeman Jones's foot on the ball was more than sufficient to show that the Heels were too slow, not too fast, to the line. We can speculate as to why the official threw the initial flag, but the ensuing three minutes were far more interesting than the initial call.

The Carolina coaching staff knew the flag was a mistake because it had the benefit of watching up in the booth the same replays you saw on television. Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham quickly asked a sideline official if the offside call was reviewable, and the official assured him that it was. That sideline official was incorrect. NCAA Rule 12, Article 4(b) states that reviewable plays involving kicks include determining whether a player is beyond the neutral zone when kicking the ball. Since the player in question was not kicking the ball, the play was not reviewable. Accordingly none of the officials reviewed the play to overturn the on-field flag, and Carolina kicked a second time without retaining possession.

But the most curious thing about this error didn't hit me until I was driving home from the airport this morning. Bank of America Stadium has two new 56' x 199' video boards that allow all 75,412 fans to comfortably view instant replays. The video boards had served this purpose all game and would show Clemson recovering the second and final onside kick to secure the win just a couple minutes after the mistaken offside call. However, the video boards did not show the sufficient replay of the mistaken offside call that you saw on your television. What we saw in the stadium was incomplete. The aggrieved yelling that normally accompanies a botched call never happened in the stadium for the offside call. In fact, I knew of the error in the stadium only because my friend's wife texted him what she was seeing on her television at home. The magnitude of the error clouded our ability to recognize this diverted flow of information.

I could speculate as to why the ESPN and in-stadium replays were so different, but I'll let you do that instead while I stick to the facts. Oh, the facts. Here's another one.

Clemson fans outnumbered Carolina fans by a ratio of roughly 5:1. Carolina had ordered its 5500 allotted tickets and 2500 extra tickets, but 8000 tickets could neither satisfy Carolina fans' demand nor fill anywhere near half of a 75,000-seat stadium.

Clemson fared much better since they clinched a berth in the championship weeks before Carolina did and gobbled up the general public ticket allotment before Carolina had the chance. Carolina clinched later through no fault of their own since they were undefeated in conference play. The ACC could do more to ensure a more balanced championship atmosphere.

Clemson was guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff with an ACC Championship win, but Carolina had only a decent shot at the CFP with a win. I hope this difference figured into neither the botched call nor the ticket allotments.

Moving forward, I wish Clemson the very best in the College Football Playoff.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Jane Eloise

On the morning of April 25, I rolled over in bed to grab my phone as I usually do and found my six-hour-old niece on the screen. She was wearing a winter hat and an enormous, adult-looking diaper. The accompanying text message: Jane Eloise. She looked beautiful and smart, a lot like my sister.

I had not had enough time to contemplate how I would feel about being an uncle because my second semester of business school was too busy for comfort. I wasn't worried. Mentally preparing to be an uncle takes only a few minutes. So I mentally prepared, albeit for a bit longer than a few minutes because my sister had led me to expect a nephew instead of a niece. Then my wife, visiting mother-in-law and I drove through three hours of ill-suited rain from South Bend to Evanston Hospital.

We worked our way through several layers of security before arriving outside my sister's room. My sister's husband, Tim, explained that we would have to wait while Jaylyn nursed Jane, so we patiently sat outside an empty nursery with Tim's parents. Nobody else was around. We appeared to be the maternity ward's only customers.

My dad appeared a moment later after mistakenly searching for us in the downstairs atrium.

"Jane blah blah blah blah," he said, "and Jane blah blah blah blah blah blah."

I was not uninterested in what he had to say about this new person, but I couldn't focus on anything he said other than her name. My brain immediately defaulted to Jaylyn's bridesmaid Jane, the namesake of the baby.

Apparently my niece was more than a nameless model in a diaper commercial or a perpetual balancing exercise for my pregnant sister. She had a name, and we were expected to use it. My original family had grown again to Mom, Dad, Jaylyn, Tim, Melissa, Winnie, Jane and I. Jane was a permanent +1, a brand new Christmas stocking coming to a fireplace near me, and I had not met her.

Minutes later Tim said our turn had come, so Melissa and her mom, my dad and I walked into the room. Jane was in my sister's lap, alternately staring at the ceiling and at her mom. She wasn't crying or uncomfortable with her new world in any way. Jane looked like she knew she was exactly where she was supposed to be. My sister smiled.

My dad and sister retold their stories from the past 12 hours, but I couldn't focus on them. I positioned myself by the head of the hospital bed so I could look at my beautiful niece and let her look at me. I hadn't shaved for a week and silently scolded myself for looking needlessly scary to an infant--if infants dislike facial hair as much as some dogs. Jane didn't seem to mind.

"Do you want to hold her?" Jaylyn asked.

"I don't know how," I said. "I know I'm supp-"

"Babies are resilient," she said. "Just hold her. You'll do fine."

So I put one hand behind her head and my other arm under her body. Then we looked at each other for what seemed like an hour. Jane was a person all her own, not quite her dad and not quite her mom. She had a lot of hair. She moved her mouth as if she was stretching her jaw. Sometimes she sneezed. Her eyes had a unique shape that reminded me of nobody I had ever met. She was gorgeous. I passed her to Melissa and took a few photographs.

-----

In the late spring of 2010, my mom called me at work. She told me she was at the hospital to have her blood drawn. She felt lethargic and somehow believed that her blood test results would come back with bad news. My mom had always been optimistic and healthy, but she sounded different that day on the phone. I was worried.

Hours later we were together at the hospital when an emergency room doctor told my mom she had acute myeloid leukemia. Another doctor was quick to tell us that the five-year survival rate was 50 percent, a rosy forecast compared to today's WebMD. My mom needed to start chemotherapy as quickly as possible.

With my dad and sister in Chicago, my mom and I hung together in North Carolina to take the early punches. We hoped for good news, but it was all bad. My mom asked me to call our family and her best friend. They all had a lot of questions, some of the same unanswered ones I had. I told everyone we were getting treatment as quickly as possible and learning new things every day. We couldn't know the exact, ultimate course of treatment until later.

Several doctors unloaded a lot of medical information on us in the following days. We learned about chemotherapy, AML, stem-cell transplants and the salient metrics from her past and future blood tests. One doctor said something that broke the mold of everything else we heard.

"Our goal is to get you through this in one way or another," he said, "because we want you to be around for a grandchild someday." He nodded in my direction.

Some readers must think I smooth the rough edges of blurry memories, and maybe I do. But I remember that moment well. My mom's moistened eyes darted in my direction, and one corner of her mouth mustered a sad smile. We said nothing. The moment passed.

My mom and I never talked about the things we wanted her to live for. I focused on her survival because the bounties of life, the big moments and the little pleasures we take for granted, would have overwhelmed me. My mathematics education had taught me to simplify, simplify. Or maybe I got that from her.

-----

She stepped off the elevator looking the happiest and healthiest I have ever seen her. Her hunched shoulders, hushed voice and wide eyes gave away her excited anticipation.

While I was unknowing and asleep, my mom had packed her bags in Chapel Hill for a 13-hour drive and indefinite stay in Chicago with her daughter, son-in-law and newborn granddaughter. She had left at 4 a.m. We would have called her with reports from the hospital to keep her awake, but my mom doesn't touch her phone when she drives. She had survived cancer with a stem-cell transplant from her sister. She doesn't take chances.

When we all walked in together, Jane wasn't on Jaylyn's lap. My mom's attention went straight to her daughter, and I think she momentarily forgot who else was in the room. Jaylyn pointed to the nearby bassinet, and my mom walked to it.

She looked and smiled at her granddaughter, Jane Eloise Stenta, for a long time. A week later she wrote:
When I looked at Jane, she was so tiny and real. I loved her so much, as much as I love you and Jaylyn. I never thought it was possible to love anyone else like that. I also thought what a perfect little miracle she was. I couldn't take my eyes off of her.
I do not know what my family did to deserve any of this. The last five years taught me that so much of life is out of our hands. Sometimes good things happen, and sometimes bad things happen. All we can do is let each other know that we love each other.

After all, Jane is only beginning to understand how much we love her. I'd better call my sister to tell her again.

video




Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why Stuart Scott won

The last few days have been hard for Tar Heels. Longtime ESPN journalist Stuart Scott passed away Sunday morning after a seven-year battle with a rare form of cancer. He was 49. He is survived by his parents, siblings, girlfriend and two loving daughters.

The loss of Stu is not unique to those who share his alma mater. Stu belonged to sports fans of all colors, even the ugly, darker blue, because of what he did. He brought life to the joy and anguish of our fanatical existence, which is an enormous part of some of our lives.

I didn't grow up on SportsCenter like many of my peers. In fact, I didn't start to watch entire episodes until I went to Carolina in 2003. But well before I became a regular viewer, I knew who Stuart Scott was. I couldn't attribute it to him at the time, but my high school basketball teammates used to relive each other's highlights in the post-game locker room back in 1999.

"Boo-yah!" point guard Jason Epner would say while stroking the air with his eyes closed. "Just call him butter because he's on a roll!"

Playing sports was cool long before Stu arrived at ESPN in 1993, but talking about sports was no different from talking about the daily news. In 1992, you might have heard someone say "Did you see Jordan's dunk? That was fun to watch." Now you're more likely to hear "Did you see Jordan's dunk? He was breakin' off somethin' proper!" Stu made talking about sports cool.

And he did so in the face of criticism from people who could sense his charisma taking the sportscasting world away from the old guard. Even as a rookie reporter at ESPN, Stu held his ground while complimenting his forward-thinking peers in his columns. Stu worked for everyone, even middle-aged white guys, but he opened the door for sports fans who were young and creative.

Stu was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and began to disappear from his regular ESPN gigs. We heard that his cancer was tough, but we also heard he was tougher. He beat it, but it came back. Then he beat it again. Then it came back again. As sports fans, we felt his battle morph into a war, and the sports metaphors worked their way into our unwilling subconscious. Stu was fighting, and we wanted Stu to win. We hoped for a day when he would return to the desk as a permanent fixture in our daily lives. That day never came.

I knew we had lost Stu, but I also couldn't shake the thought that Stu lost an unfair fight with cancer. Cancer had the brass knuckles all along, but we didn't know it for sure until this week. To give you some perspective, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and I am thankful that she has now been cancer free for years. I know the "beat cancer" story better than I ever thought I would. 

This past fall I enrolled in Notre Dame's full-time MBA program. As unsettling as it occasionally was to be a part of a rival institution of my alma mater, I also giddily awaited Carolina football's Oct. 11 appointment in South Bend. I hoped that Notre Dame would be 5-0 atop the rankings so we could spoil their season. I got my wish.

A couple days before the game, I went to the Grotto to light a candle and pray for a few things including the Heels. To my surprise, I didn't pray for a win. I prayed that Carolina would fight hard and make me proud in front of my new friends and classmates. I knew I could plan to have a great time with the many Carolina friends and family who were on their way, but I also knew that I couldn't control what seemed to be the most important thing to everyone: the outcome of the game. I didn't want to ask for too much.

Carolina's maligned defense earned an early 14-0 lead in what I describe as the third-most exciting five minutes of my life (I'm married, and I was at the 2004 Miami game). That and the rest of the game were an unforgettable experience shared with the people I love. We lost by the narrow margin of one possession. Carolina had fought hard. I walked out of Notre Dame Stadium disappointed but proud. I got exactly what I prayed for.

After Stu's passing, I watched a bunch of tribute videos and old broadcasts of his. For some reason I scrolled past his Jimmy V Perseverance Award acceptance speech. I think I wanted to see him at his professional best aside from his illness. But because his speech was at the top of any search results list, I eventually clicked on it and watched.

I discovered that in his last year, Stu came to understand that beating cancer wasn't about the length of his life as he had stated. Beating cancer was about how and why he lived. For him, that meant being with his daughters and training through mixed martial arts, the latter to prove to himself his own physical mettle. For each moment he did what he wanted to do with his life without regard to cancer, he won.

The final score didn't matter.

I heard that message hours before last night's tip off between Carolina and Notre Dame. I didn't go to the Grotto this time because it is butt-cold in South Bend, but I'd be lying to you if I said the end result didn't hurt. I wanted the Heels to extend their pregame tribute to Stu for 40 minutes of determined basketball. I went to bed feeling like we lost a game we should have won not because our team deserved it but because Stu deserved it.

This morning I thought of what Stu would have said over last night's SportsCenter highlight reel if he was behind the desk. Despite his rooting heart, he would have been as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Tar Heel.

You are in our hearts, Stu.