By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
Two things we learned this past week: Lance Armstrong is a complete charlatan and Manti Te’o needs to learn how to Skype.
Let’s dispense with Armstrong first. Does anybody feel anything but disgust toward the man who once was held out as a hero for battling and overcoming cancer and winning seven Tour de France titles? Nearly universally people wanted to believe in him. Outwardly he was the epitome of perseverance, courage and success. He single-handedly gave people a reason to actually pay attention to a sport – cycling – that was far off the spectator sport radar.
He founded Livestrong, a cancer-fighting charity. He wrote two autobiographies and vigorously, and sometimes viciously, went after anybody who dared accuse him of “juicing” (using Performing Enhancing Drugs) and we believed him. However, the evidence and the investigations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the damming testimony, proved to be overwhelming. He refused to cooperate, was stripped of his seven Tour titles and even the International Olympic Committee has asked him to return his bronze medal.
Armstrong finally came “clean” to that hard-hitting journalist Oprah Winfrey and admitted everything was a lie. He was a cheat, he used PEDs and lied constantly. In his second autobiography, “Every Second Counts,” released in 2003, he talked about his son and his own reputation. “Luke’s name is Armstrong and people know that name, and when he goes to school I don’t want them to say ‘Oh yea, your dad’s the big fake, the doper.” Well, kid, guess what? Your dad is a big, fake, cheating, doper.
International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said Armstrong “deserves to be forgotten in cycling.” That may be the best punishment. Let’s all just forget about him.
Then there is the strange, bizarre story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o that broke this past Thursday and nearly blasted Armstrong off the sports and news pages completely.
The Te’o story had so many twists and turns it gave rise to more conspiracy theories than those surrounding the alleged UFO incident in Roswell, N.M., especially when you add in the fact it involves Notre Dame, the most storied, beloved and hated college football program in America.
Te’o, who finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting, grabbed national attention this season with his play, and his personal story of triumph, overcoming the death of his grandmother and girlfriend within mere hours of each other. Except, it turned out, there was no girlfriend.
Numerous (no fewer than 19) media outlets breathlessly recounted Te’o’s story throughout the season about Lennay Kekua, Teo’s girlfriend who survived an auto accident only to be found to have leukemia and then died. The narrative told the story of how Te’o went out and had the game of his career in Notre Dame’s 20-3 win over Michigan State. It was all Rudy-esque.
Deadspin.com put the lie to it all with its piece this past Thursday that exposed the entire girlfriend story to be a fraud. There was no Lennay. Te’o, despite press reports to the contrary, never “met” her and she didn’t die any more than she lived. What a mess.
Notre Dame fully backed Te’o after the hoax story broke, saying he came to them back on Dec. 6 and told them he was a victim of a cruel hoax, that his online girlfriend was concocted by another person, replete with using a lifted picture of another, unwitting woman, attached to a phony Facebook account.
Except, according to The Associated Press, just days after he supposedly came to Notre Dame to disclose that he had been duped, he still was talking about his now imaginary girlfriend as if she was quite real in an Internet piece from Dec. 8 and in a newspaper interview on Dec. 11.
Te’o’s assertion that he was a victim, and not in on it, still seems hard to believe, especially in this day and age of things like Skype. It seems beyond the pale he would not have at least conversed with her “live” visually in such a manner.
Te’o broke his silence in the strange affair in an off-camera interview with ESPN late Friday when he asserted he was duped.
But, he also admitted he misled people by saying he met her because he thought it would seem strange to others he had fallen in love with somebody he never had actually met. Clearly, his deception in this regard makes him partially culpable as well.
There certainly, at the very least, appears to be a large degree naivete on his part. If he is to be believed, he was far too trusting and became an easy mark for the prank. At worst, though, there remains the appearance that, despite knowing he was duped, he continued to allow the story to remain out there to enhance his Heisman hopes.
It will take Te’o a long time to overcome this. It was wise he broke his silence and certainly there was a financial reason as well, since his NFL draft stock had begun to plummet during this bizarre story.
In the end, it appears we all, and that may indeed include Te’o, simply were punked. Or maybe, more accurately, we were “Lanced.”
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at