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Where's Te'o? Manti's gotta step up

Watch: Notre Dame responds to the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax firestorm.
Watch: Notre Dame responds to the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax firestorm.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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Time matters. Timing matters. And Manti Te’o has wasted one long day and counting. In crisis management, time is measured in dog years.

That was 24 hours of unnamed former Notre Dame teammates saying they were always suspicious, of media analyzing every word Te’o has said for months, of public opinion turning by snarky jokes on Twitter. Have you seen Te’oing? Stand in front of something for a romantic photo with your arm around the shoulder of . . . nothing.

It was 24 hours of Te’o letting the balance of belief tip against him while he said absolutely nothing. Questions and doubts grew and sharpened.

Where on earth is Manti Te’o, anyway? The loudest voice of the day Thursday was Te’o’s non-existent one.

One thing no one considers is that he might be in real pain. If his side of the story is true, then it is horror for a simple, trusting soul.

But if he’s not going to defend himself, then there is no use in anyone defending him. A big, strong linebacker who reached greatness by attacking is now hiding behind guarded fences at an IMG office in Florida, riding around on a golf cart, preparing for the NFL draft and letting his handlers make him look like a fool.

A guilty fool. Te’o must talk, though there apparently is no plan for him to do so.

“I don’t like cancer at all,” Te’o said on Dec. 8, two days after Notre Dame says he discovered his girlfriend was just a hoax. “I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.”

Or this, on Dec. 9: “She made me promise, when it happened, that I would stay and play.”

On Thursday, an unnamed former Te’o teammate told Pepperonsports.com that players doubted the seriousness of Te’o’s relationship all along, and that he was a “very good” actor: “He lied, but the media blew it up.”

These types of reports Thursday are defining Te’o now, even though every last one would be so easy to refute if Te’o says it, means it, is truthful about it.

If he doesn’t have a defense, then he should look who was talking Thursday. In the void that should have been Te’o talking, Lance Armstrong, 15 years late, was passionlessly fessing up to Oprah. And at the start of the day, advice came to Armstrong on the “Today “show from a generation earlier:

“If he does admit it, he’s going to take a load off his shoulders,” Pete Rose said. “I waited too long. For anybody that has any kind of problem like that, come forward as quickly as you possibly can. . . . It gets you back to recovery with the fans. Most of the time they’ll give you a second chance.”

I’m not saying that Te’o was in on the hoax. But some of the media are out there for blood now, proving that they won’t be run over the way they were with Armstrong. And some are just hoping that Te’o will provide a believable story so they won’t have to admit that Deadspin beat them.

MANTI AND THE MYTH

Te'o isn't the first Notre Dame legend to remind us ... DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE

Te’o says he was duped into a relationship online and on the phone, and thought it was true love. The entire relationship was done without a face-to-face meeting. Even his girlfriend’s death was faked, but the pain was real to Te’o. And apparently, as shown by the movie — then MTV show — “Catfish,” this is something that actually happens today.

Internet predators go after marks, try to make them fall in love and eventually get around to creating a horrible sickness or death or something to prey on a person’s sympathies.

Consider me the perfect test market. I am doubting Te’o, wondering if he created the girlfriend and sob story of her death by leukemia just to garner sentiment and attention, or maybe for some other unknown reason. On the other hand, I think it’s possible that Te’o is telling the truth, and that he didn’t perpetrate the hoax, but instead was the victim of it.

I am not trying to prove one side or the other, but only to figure out truth. That takes hearing from both sides.

Deadspin made the case against him, brilliantly uncovering the hoax of his girlfriend, but then somewhat irresponsibly pointing the finger at Te’o as a co-conspirator in the plot with some guy named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Deadspin’s source said he was 80 percent sure Te’o was in on it.

Eighty percent sure? There is one word for that: unsure. Imagine a lawyer in court asking a witness: “Did you see that man shoot the victim?”

“Yes. I’m 80 percent sure.”

Case thrown out.

Someone identified as Te’o’s great uncle, Alema Te’o, went on the radio in Utah and said that Tuiasosopo is a liar and had concocted the hoax himself to make money. He said he doesn’t think Te’o discovered the scam until Dec. 26, not Dec. 6, which would explain away almost every one of Te’o’s questionable quotes.

The alleged uncle also talked about meeting with Tuiasosopo at a Notre Dame game this season:

“He was with a young girl the age of 9,” the uncle said on 1280-AM The Zone. “He said he did all these fundraisers for leukemia and was doing some things currently to help raise money on behalf of Lennay (his purported girlfriend), this so-called Manti's girlfriend. . . . He said they were having a big fundraiser . . . (to) raise money. . . .

“He made it clear they were there to raise money for a friend of Lennay's who was struggling in college."

Sorry, but an unverified uncle cannot do the job. Neither can a statement, which is all the fight we’ve gotten from Te’o.

Imagine the pain Te’o must have felt if his side of the story is true. To get a call from his supposedly dead girlfriend? Imagine the horror. You have to imagine it, because a statement convinces no one.

It will take a face, filled with genuine expression, of pain and embarrassment, telling details, answering dozens and dozens of questions. It will be painful, but if he doesn't do it, it will affect the rest of his life.

How could Te’o go three years without meeting his girlfriend? Well, actually, the first two years were just casual emails. To listen to Te’o’s old quotes, the relationship was only serious for about one year.

But whatever. That’s for Te’o to discuss. He has wasted so much time already.

And so did Notre Dame. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Te’o informed the school about the hoax on Dec. 26. That meant 21 days passed before Deadspin’s report.

There is no way Notre Dame, or Te’o’s management, should have allowed Deadspin to break that story. Even if Notre Dame wanted to check out Te’o’s story before going public, it got the report back from an independent investigator on Jan. 4. Then it gave the results to the Te’o family Jan. 5. Then came the national championship.

What happened in the next eight days? If Notre Dame or Te’o didn’t speak up or set the tone, then it appears they were trying to hide it.

What a bungled mess. Any politician will tell you that the first rule of public opinion is to fight back the minute you are attacked.

That’s assuming you have anything to fight back with.

Tagged: Notre Dame

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