By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Happy New Year! Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. While we are going to look at a wide spectrum of sports this month, one late-breaking story required that I rewrite the column. Thank you, Manti Te’o.
Lance Armstrong is probably thankful for Te’o’s bizarre story, as the cyclist’s long-awaited admission that he “Lied Strong” instead of living strong for years took a backseat to a story about the death of a woman that never existed.
We’ve covered Manti Te’o’s story. He led an inspiring Notre Dame defense to a 12–0 regular season record and a shot at the National Championship against Alabama. He won several individual awards, including placing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting — a feat unheard of from a defensive player.
One of the more endearing “facts” about Te’o was the personal tragedies he suffered during the season. Notably, his grandmother and girlfriend had died on the same day. Despite their deaths, Te’o played for the Irish that day and led his team to victory. The story of losing a family member and someone he was in love with is a sad story. Unfortunately, it turns out that a portion of that narrative was fiction.
Deadspin.com reported that social security records indicated that while Te’o’s grandmother had passed, there were no records of Te’o’s girlfriend, Lenny Kekua, passing away. There were no records that she was born. What happened?
It turns out that Te’o’s girlfriend was fake. There are conflicting reports as to whether Te’o discovered the hoax, but played along with it to drum up publicity for his own personal gain (i.e., Heisman Trophy votes) or that Te’o was in the dark about it the whole time. Notre Dame’s athletic department has come out to his defense, saying that the Te’o family alerted the program in early December of the hoax. A player of the Arizona Cardinals has also said that he met Kekua on a trip with Pittsburgh Steelers’ star safety Troy Polamalu, when Polamalu took a group of players to Samoa for a charity event before Manti Te’o was ever in the picture.
Te’o states that he discovered the hoax when “Kekua” called him, “back from the dead,” after an awards banquet in December. Over 3 months after she was laid to rest, she came back to haunt him.
It appears that Te’o was a victim of an online hoax that may have been perpetrated by a cousin of former University of Washington quarterback (and now assistant head coach) Marques Tuiasosopo, who may have posed as Kekua. It appears that Te’o believed that a person online was real. But it turns out, the person was created for Te’o as a prank.
Confused yet? Thanks to the Internet age, it’s easy to find and chat with people online and create a relationship with someone you’ve never met. While there were phone calls, the person on the other end was not Kekua. So, if this person never existed, why did Te’o state that he met her in person?
There is the speculation that he was just naive and once he realized that he was tricked, he was too embarrassed to admit what had happened. Still, this episode is one of the strangest stories ever. And for Te’o, it could hurt his chances of getting drafted in the first round by an NFL team. Even if Te’o did not intend to mislead anyone, his naiveté and decision-making skills may be questioned. His image has been scarred, which may lead to fewer endorsement deals.
More Manti problems: Te’o’s father blacklists local newspaper
It’s an understatement to say that Te’o’s 2013 hasn’t started off too well. Notwithstanding his imaginary friend, the Fighting Irish were pummeled by Alabama in a game that was hard to watch if you were an Irish fan. It was even hard to watch if you were just a fan of college football. Alabama won the game 42-14. The game was over in the first 15 minutes. Te’o failed to provide any impact, as the Alabama offense scored at will. Alabama’s performance included running back Eddie Lacy running completely over Te’o during one play.
A photo of the play made it into the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, accompanied by the words “Bowled Over,” which reflected Alabama’s dominant play. Te’o’s father Brian, still sore from the loss, wrote an angry response to the hometown newspaper’s coverage of the game and his son’s less than complimentary picture on its front page. On his son’s Facebook fan page, Te’o’s father stated that his son would no longer take interviews from the paper as a result of the picture.
“Our family has been very gracious to the Star Advertiser by providing interviews and photos of our son in the recent weeks. On our way home from Miami, we were ‘privileged’ to see how the Star Advertiser returns the favor …,” Brian Te’o added, “So, from this point forward, Star Advertiser, you have been officially blacklisted … I will encourage all who have a subscription to your newspaper not to renew.”
While it is understandable for a father to want to protect his son, the media has a duty to be unbiased. Sometimes, that means publishing factual information that you might disagree with. Just because Te’o granted interviews to the newspaper does not mean that it would give him preferential treatment. In the new age of public relations and social media, athletes can promote themselves without critique. However, newspapers like the Honolulu Star Advertiser have a duty to report the news. Since Te’o was a local high school football star, it was natural that the paper would have some sort of local angle for the game. Unfortunately for Te’o, his team lost and the Star Advertiser had every right to publish the picture. Similarly, Te’o has every right to not grant the paper any more access.
The problem with the public denouncement of the paper is the backlash it has had on Te’o. Sports website Deadspin.com published multiple photos of Te’o missing tackles and looking lost on the field. This is in response to Te’o’s father’s post.
Obviously with the online girlfriend hoax, the Honolulu Star Advertiser has even more to write about, now that Brian Te’o will need to be less sensitive when it comes to media coverage.
The Australian Open heats up
Although it’s really cold here in the Northwest, the heat is on in Melbourne, Australia, as the Australian Open kicks off the first major tennis tournament of the year. The Layup Drill offers some notable names:
Kei Nishikori: This Japanese men’s tennis player is gaining some notice. With his overpowering forehand, he was picked to make a run in this tournament this year. At 23, he was one of the top players in Australia.
Nishikori showed signs of a player that could crack the top 10 in the world, but lost in the fourth round.
Li Na: Na is the sixth-ranked tennis player in the world of women’s tennis. Although she has proclaimed the Australian Open her favorite grand slam tournament, the 30-year-old from China has yet to win the title. Na was the runner-up in 2011.
Na is on her way to taking the women’s title as she has breezed her way through to the semifinals. Good luck!
Wu Di: Di is the first player from Mainland China playing in a major grand slam tournament. Di is ranked number 186 in the world. Despite his meager ranking, he understands that his participation in the tournament is a huge step for the sport of tennis in China.
Unfortunately for Di, his debut was his only match in Melbourne, as he lost in the first round.
Chen robbed of game-winning basket
Sabatino Chen, a guard for the University of Colorado men’s basketball team, became the center of a controversial play against the University of Arizona. Chen, a Chinese American, banked in what appeared to be a game-winning three-pointer to upset the number 3 team in the nation, the undefeated Wildcats. Although the Buffaloes were heavy underdogs, Chen’s team had led most of the way. While the Wildcats had closed the gap and actually tied the game in the waning seconds, Chen had the ball with a chance to win the game.
Chen’s shot came at about the same time that the buzzer sounded, signifying the end of the game. But, after further review, the referees determined that the ball was shot after time expired. Upon a second look, it was clear Chen took the shot before time expired. Unfortunately for Chen and the Buffaloes, instant replay did not help them.
Former football star Seau suffered from a brain injury
An autopsy revealed that former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau suffered from chronic brain damage. Seau committed suicide in May of last year, when he shot himself in the chest. His family chose to have his brain examined to determine whether he suffered from a brain injury related to his years from playing football.
According to family and friends, Seau’s suicide came as a complete surprise. There was no note or any overt issues that might have caused him to take his own life. Seau had a successful restaurant in the San Diego area and volunteered with the Samoan community.
Seau’s suicide and the finding that he had brain damage underscore the dangers of the sport. While most of us from Seattle have been enamored with the Seahawks the past few weeks, Seau’s death shows a need for increased safety measures in the sport.
Seau, a Samoan American, would have been 44 years old on Jan. 19.
The NHL is back
For those wondering, the National Hockey League started up this month after several months of striking caused a delay of the league’s games. It seems like the NHL is always on strike. With the thought of an NHL team coming to Seattle in the next couple years, here are a couple guys to look out for.
Brandon Yip is a 27-year-old player for the Nashville Predators. Yip, who is part Chinese, is originally from Vancouver, Canada. The former Boston University hockey player led all rookies in goal scoring during his rookie year in 2009–2010. He also scored a rather peculiar “hat trick” in a game during that year in which he scored a goal, assisted in a goal, and got into a fight during the game. The Gordie Howe “hat trick” is named after NHL great Gordie Howe, who scored a lot…and fought a lot. After his rookie year, Yip has struggled to regain the same success. Hopefully, he scores a lot and fights less this season.
Devin Setoguchi is a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian that plays for the Minnesota Wild. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. Setoguchi was third on the team in scoring goals. While the NHL was on strike, Setoguchi played in another league to keep in shape, while the NHL and its players’ union figured out another deal. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.