University of Notre Dame is in the thick of a developing PR crisis.
On Wednesday, sports blog Deadspin
published a major story detailing how the girlfriend of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o never existed.
The university had used Te’o heartbreaking story—his grandmother and his girlfriend had reportedly died before the team’s Sept. 11 game against Michigan State—to inspire the team, and its fans.
According to Deadspin
, the girlfriend who Te’o said had died of leukemia never existed. The story went viral shortly after it was published.
Notre Dame is standing by its star, saying Te’o is the victim of an online hoax.
What’s noteworthy here is how Notre Dame (and Te’o) responded—and when— considering what the university knew on Dec. 26. The Fighting Irish lost the national championship on Jan. 7.
When the story broke yesterday, Notre Dame issued the following statement
“On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.”
“At minimum.” In the betting world, that’s called a hedge. It may be because Deadspin
’s article suggests something much more complicated—namely that Te’o was in on the hoax. Te’o’s family members had told the South Bend Tribune
that the couple first met in 2009.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick addressed the issue at a press conference on Wednesday
, and said that “nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota.”
After the university was informed of the hoax on the 26th, it engaged a private investigative firm, which apparently didn’t talk to the same sources that Deadspin
The result of that investigation, according to Swarbrick, was delivered Jan. 4. It was then left to Te’o and his family to decide what to do next. Swarbrick said the plan was to go public with the story next week, but Deadspin
beat them to it.
Everything Notre Dame and their investigators learned, Swarbrick said, leads them to believe that Te’o is telling the truth. But it’s up to Te’o to make sure he doesn’t make liars out of his alma mater.
Asked whether the university encouraged Te'o to come forward and break the story, Swarbrick cited a number of reasons why it didn't happen. Chief among them:
"From the outset, we established a parameter that this was Manti's story to tell. We wanted to know it would be told. We wanted to know at the appropriate time when it would be told, but that it was his to tell."
As a side note in this story, I wondered to a friend last night how Stanford’s student newspaper could have missed this story. Te’o’s fake girlfriend was a fake Stanford alum who suffered injuries from a fake car crash and then “died” of leukemia. Wouldn’t this be worth a story in the Stanford Daily?
Kudos to their team, as they published their own mea culpa
this morning: Manti Teo’s fake girlfriend, and how we missed it
. Miles Bennett-Smith writes, “You are right to be disappointed with us at this time.”
I wonder whether other media outlets that cover Te’o’s story will do the same.