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 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.

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