The media-led disbelief regarding Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s decision to go “all in” with Manti Te’o is quite hysterical, equally disingenuous and embarrassingly hypocritical.
Why would Swarbrick go all in defending Te’o if the star linebacker were not the innocent victim of a cruel hoax?
For the same damn reason the sports media went all in with Te’o for the past four months! For the same damn reason the sports media have gone all in with college football’s shamateurism lie for the past 25 years!
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Swarbrick’s reasoning and actions are not hard to comprehend. He, everyone at Notre Dame, everyone drawing a six- or seven-figures-plus salary working within big-time college football and basketball have been living an absolute lie for more than a quarter of a century.
Lies begat lies. They stack on top of each other until they form what comedic pundit Jon Stewart calls “Bull$--t Mountain.” At the moment, Manti Te’o and Lennay Kekua sit perched atop Bull$--t Mountain. They scaled it with the enthusiastic support of Swarbrick, Brian Kelly, Notre Dame and college football’s media partners, the watchdogs and enforcers of the NCAA’s amateur lie.
Lying is easy when you’re living one. No institution is living a bigger lie than Notre Dame. The Golden Dome believes it can live up to its religious ideals while participating in the systematic financial exploitation of young people.
Let me remind you of Walter Byers’ confession. Byers, a white, conservative from Kansas, created the modern NCAA and wrote these words in his 1997 memoir “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting the Student-Athlete:”
“Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”
That’s not the race card played by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or me. That’s unvarnished truth from the owner of the plantation.
Notre Dame is the primary institution preventing the media and many sports fans from grappling with that truth. No institution sells the mythical benefits of amateurism more effectively than Notre Dame.
Manti Te’o was 2012’s poster child. He was pre-Thanksgiving Tiger Woods, pre-New York Jets Tim Tebow and pre-Bo Jackson Brian Bosworth rolled into a magnificent Hawaiian lei.
NBC, ESPN, CBS, FOX Sports, Sports Illustrated and the South Bend Tribune found Te’o as irresistible as Swarbrick, Kelly and the Notre Dame priest who thought he’d met Lennay Kekua when she visited South Bend. (Via Twitter I campaigned for Te’o to win the Heisman.)
Te’o did everything the right way. He went to class. He was an inspirational locker-room leader. He visited sick children in the hospital. He was polite and kind to his non-athlete classmates. And, when he wasn’t turning water into wine, Te’o spent hours upon hours talking on the phone with his Stanford-graduate girlfriend who was injured in a car accident, diagnosed with leukemia and died within hours of Te’o’s beloved grandmother.
Te’o was the anti-Cam Newton, the anti-Honey Badger, and Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans, the Batman and Robin of NCAA shamateurism enforcement, could not contain their delight in holding Te’o up as the symbol of what is right about college sports. Thamel, writing around multiple red flags, penned a doozy of a tale about Te’o and his mythical secret lover for the Oct. 1 edition of SI. A day later, ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski talked around all the same red flags in his video essay of Te’o and his mythical secret lover. Playing catchup, the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen added remarkable detail to his Romeo-and-Juliet Lite narrative that ran on Oct. 12.
And we’re wondering why Swarbrick is all in with Te’o? Swarbrick is no different from the media who have been all in with Notre Dame and the amateur lie for decades. Swarbrick went all in with Brian Kelly when Kelly’s negligence led to the death of student videographer Declan Sullivan. Check and see how many of Notre Dame/college football’s media partners attempted to hold Kelly and Swarbrick accountable for Sullivan, who was killed when he fell off a scissor lift while filming a ND practice in extreme weather conditions. A child died due to the gross negligence of the head coach and the NCAA’s volunteer media enforcement staff was too busy chasing down stories about boosters and “street agents” giving poor kids cash and buying them drinks at strip clubs.
No one is challenging Notre Dame. In 2010, a 19-year-old woman committed suicide allegedly after being sexually molested by an ND football player and subsequently harassed by his teammates. In 2011, the alleged perpetrator was cleared of all wrongdoing.
And guess what? Remarkably the star of Notre Dame’s 2012 team just happens to be an angel who falls in love with a young woman who is dying of leukemia. Who helped sell that game-changing narrative? For Notre Dame and supporters of the amateur myth, Manti Te’o, lover of Lennay Kekua, is a better story than Lizzy Seeberg, the child suicide victim.
Why is Swarbrick all in?
He has no other choice. Te’o’s teammates and the kids on ND’s campus have been gossiping for months that the Kekua story was bogus. If you think no one on that team, no kid on that campus, no parent of a player ever said anything to Kelly, his assistants or Swarbrick about the spotlight-stealing Kekua story, then you know absolutely nothing about the politics of team sports.
You’ll never convince me Dec. 26 is the first time Swarbrick and Kelly heard Kekua was a fraud. Swarbrick is handcuffed to Te’o. If Swarbrick abandons him, he risks Te’o (and Te’o’s overzealous father) telling all that he knows. Te’o, as we now know, is a marvelous salesman.
Te’o claims he first heard on Dec. 6 that Kekua was a fraud. He waited 20 days to tell Kelly and Swarbrick. Te’o conducted multiple interviews without correcting the lie. And now, beyond a written statement that thanked everyone -- except his teammates -- for their support, he is silent, working out in Florida in preparation for the draft.
ESPN/ABC reportedly heard before the BCS championship that Kekua was a fake (ESPN has denied the report). So when did Thamel, Wojciechowski and Hansen hear?
The inspiring kids at Deadspin figured out the fraud within a couple of days of hearing it. But the journalists at the top of our profession who helped promote the myth couldn’t unravel it in four months? You think no one ever emailed, tweeted or called them with suspicions? And you think Swarbrick is the only one all in with Manti Te’o?
Everyone associated with the lie of amateurism is all in with Manti Te’o. Look at the media. Our biggest complaint about big-time college football is that there is no playoff system. In the era of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (concussions), we’re campaigning for more games, more money, more exploitation.
To justify our hypocrisy, we need more Manti Te’os.