All That and a Bag of Mail: Te'o's Fake Girlfriend Edition
By Clay Travis
What an absolutely wild week.
I was truly thinking to myself on Wednesday morning, "There can't be a story as crazy as Bobby Petrino again in the 2013 offseason can there?" What will I write about all offseason? And then, bang, Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend story pops up on Deadspin Wednesday afternoon just as we start 3HL. Next thing you know Thursday is the most read day in the history of Outkick the Coverage. We had over 175,000 unique visitors yesterday. That's an absurdly huge number for an independent site. The audience was so big that my tech guy said we're going to have to recalibrate the site to handle the initial rushes of traffic when I post new stories on Twitter. So please have patience with us if you try to click on a link and it doesn't immediately come up.
First, everyone is talking about how Te'o should get his story out.
My idea, put it on pay-per-view with Bob Costas as the interviewer. You guarantee a two-hour interview, you're going to answer every question, and you have a pitbull interviewer. (Remember what Costas did to Jerry Sandusky with just a few hours of prep time?) If you put this on at night and sold it for $10, are you telling me you couldn't get ten million people to buy it? Hell, that's not much more than an HD movie costs on pay-per-view now. And that's even less than a porno movie costs. (So I'm told by people who have ever bought porno movies on pay-per-view. I absolutely, positively was not watching "Erotic Bigfoot," on Cinemax last night. Nope, that was someone else entirely.)
If you got 10 million pay-per-view buyers that's $100 million!
Or you could double the cost to $20 and you'd only need 5 million people to buy it to get to $100 million.
I think this thing would be a massive television event. Hell, I would love to be the interviewer in this. I'd do it for free. Wouldn't you buy it? Wouldn't your girlfriend or wife demand that you buy it and sit down and watch it with her? I think everyone would watch this on pay-per-view.
It's the perfect TV event.
Anyway, that's my advice, at least make money off your fake girlfriend. You can even donate half the money to charity. In one two-hour period Te'o would be likely to make more money than he does in his entire NFL career. All he has to do is tell the complete truth from his perspective. Give the interviewer all his phone records, text messages, everything to review prior to the interview.
Then the entire story is unveiled on live television with everyone able to assess Te'o's validity for themselves.
Okay, now that I've made my pay-per-view pitch, on to the mailbag:
"Tons of you on Twitter and email: what do you think the real Te'o story is, Clay? "
Okay, my four year old and two year old sons love Scooby Doo. There's always a Scooby Doo episode on in our house. Why? Because at the end of the show you know you're going to get the grand reveal to the mystery, the moment when a mask is pulled off someone and everything else makes sense. My four year old told me the other day that he wants to be a monster detective when he grows up. (By the way, would there be a better job on earth than "monster detective?" I was kind of jealous.) The reason why the Scooby Doo show is so popular with young kids is because it appeals to our internal narrative, even before we know what the word narrative means, we love mysteries with a clear ending.
What adult shows are the highest rated? CSI, Law and Order, all of them are murder mysteries. Every single one of these shows promises that it will create and solve a mystery within an hour. These are just grown-up Scooby Doo's. Hell, Nancy Grace's entire career is based on finding real-life mysteries like these and covering them for months at a time in great detail.
That's why the Te'o story is so intriguing to us now, because deep down I think most of us believe that the mystery will be solved by the end of the story.
In the meantime, we all have our own theories and ideas about what really happened, we're all playing detective. How many of y'all right now are pretending to work while you have Twitter minimized on your screens, waiting for the latest Te'o news to drop.
But here's the deal, I don't think there's a clear-cut answer here. I don't know if we'll ever get the full, honest story. Instead, I think we're going to be assigning culpability to several individuals who all bear part of the blame. Te'o is involved to some degree or another, either as an idiot liar, a cover-up expert, a gay man afraid to come out of the closet, or the most diabolical linebacker since Ray Lewis's Atlanta Super Bowl party. Notre Dame is involved because they're complicit in aiding the continuation of a false story -- and maybe for much more --, whoever pretended to be the fake girlfriend is involved, whether as a sole sinister actor or as part of a plot, we don't know. Finally, the media is a guilty party as well.
Since it's the media that actually made this story a big deal without verifying that the girlfriend had actually died.
I was discussing the media angle with a buddy the other day and he said, imagine that Te'o's story is the exact same, but he plays at Florida State or USC or BYU or Boston College, pretty much any other school in the country. Does Teo's story ever reach these heights of attention? I don't think so. Part of the reason that Te'o's story became so big was because he played at Notre Dame, where fake football histories and hagiographies have been written for over 100 years. Go back and look at the history of the Gipper speech, it's complete crap. If Te'o plays pretty much anywhere else, he's just a talented linebacker who happened to have a couple of family members die during the season. That's a sad story, but it happens on pretty much every college football team in the country every year.
Hell, if Notre Dame just loses a couple of games, does this story ever become massive? Does Te'o get a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist if he plays for a 9-3 Notre Dame team? Doubtful.
So I think the idea of a clear-cut ending to this story is unlikely. This isn't Scooby Doo. Although, several of you guys are already fantasizing about what your "monster detective" business cards would look like. I think Te'o knew, I think he lied once he knew about this, and I think Notre Dame is covering for Te'o as well. There isn' t just one bad actor here, there are several.
Andrew R. writes:
"Analyzing the Te’o situation, the theory that he is gay makes the most sense to me. Unless he is a Mormon Tim Tebow, the temptation of being a BMOC at a major university would be too much temptation. Even if Te’o is extremely socially awkward, he would still have hot girls coming at him left and right because of his prestige. The pressures of being a gay Mormon, and also playing at a Catholic university doesn’t make for a good situation. We’ve also never seen the effect of being an openly gay athlete has on someone’s draft stock. I’m not usually a “conspiracy theorist”, but this conspiracy theory makes more sense than anything we have been fed by Te’o, Notre Dame, or the media to this point."
The only way Te'o can come out of this situation looking better than he did before this all started is if he announced that he was gay.
Otherwise, in the absolute best case scenario for him, he's a complete and total idiot who was duped by a completely unbelievable story. For years! But if he announces that he's gay and the fake girlfriend was just an eloborate cover story, he's a hero for gays, he's a hero for the the sports community, and he becomes one of the most marketable athletes of all time. He'd be the first major sport athlete to come out as gay while he's still playing a team sport. I mean, that's historic.
Which raises another interesting question, even if Te'o's straight should he pretend to be gay for the good publicity at this point? Isn't it better to be gay than incredibly stupid? How hysterical would this be, a fake gay athlete? Honestly, this would be a good HBO show, can you imagine pretending to be a gay athlete if you were really straight? If you had to hide all of your heterosexual relationships? How angry would your real girlfriend be that he wouldn't acknowledge her and she had to pretend to just be his friend? I mean, it's a great conceit for a television show, flipping the coming out of the closet theme on its head. Eventually, he'd have to flip back, right? And once Te'o announced that he was straight, how quickly would the gay community turn on him?
Anyway, this would be amazing.
Also, if Te'o announces he's gay, think about how much pressure shifts to the NFL. Can you imagine if the homophobic NFL teams all passed on him in the first round? That would be a public relations disaster for the NFL. Around pick twenty Roger Goodell would be on the phone with team owners offering them all sorts of incentives to draft Te'o. Goodell would be frenzied, hair all askew, dripping sweat, screaming into the phone, and then every nine minutes, he'd have to get re-made up by his staff, put on a smile, and walk out and announce another team that passed on Te'o.
Meanwhile, the cameras are focused on Te'o and gay rights activists are planning to picket the NFL.
This would be amazing live television.
Hell, if you owned the San Franciso 49ers wouldn't this be the greatest media coup ever, drafting the first openly gay player? Even if, you know, he was just pretending to be gay.
Chris M. writes:
"Are you surprised Deadspin broke this story?"
One of the great fallacies of sports media is the idea that television networks with major league partnerships really want to break stories like these. They don't, not really. Now, the reporters and writers who work for these entities do, but not the business side of these networks don't want to do it. It's not worth antagonizing the relationships with the guys who actually make you money over breaking a story that will make you no real money.
Let's use ESPN as an example.
According to Forbes ESPN, at $40 billion dollars, is the most valuable media company in the world.
What percentage of that value comes from writing about sports? In other words, if you completely tossed all original written words off of ESPN.com or ESPN the Magazine and replaced it with all AP articles and kept the same video analyzing games, draft picks, and the like, how much would ESPN's brand value decline?
Would it decline at all?
I'm going to write on this to a greater degree in the weeks and months ahead, but from a business perspective having original written content really doesn't matter to ESPN's business value. It just doesn't, it's like a pimple on the butt of the overall business.
ESPN had 500 people at the BCS title game. They knew about Te'o's fake girlfriend for at least a week -- and potentially ten days according to the Big Lead. Given that ESPN had 500 people in Miami for the BCS title game, how many people working the Te'o girlfriend case could ESPN have mobilized? Keeping in mind that Deadspin broke the story with one employee and a college intern in five days. Are you really telling me it took ESPN longer to get this story done than Deadspin?
Of course not, ESPN didn't want to break this story that badly. At least not without Te'o being involved in the story as well.
Put another way, do you think it's a coincidence that Yahoo Sports and Deadspin, two online only outlets with no league television relationships, break most major sports stories?
With a story as awkward as Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend, ESPN would much prefer that a site like Deadspin break this news instead of its own online site. Once Deadspin breaks the story then ESPN can cover it aggressively. But it can claim to Notre Dame, "Look, it's a big story, we've got to cover it now. We're a news organization." Meanwhile ESPN and Notre Dame executives can still play golf together, go have a few beers, continue to get rich off the growing BCS deal, and no one's relationship is strained at all.
Point me to the last major story that ESPN broke involving its league television partners that wouldn't have ever seen the light of day without ESPN breaking it?
I'll be waiting for a long time.
You can criticize ESPN for this, but you can also recognize that it's just business. (You can criticize CBS, NBC, and Fox for the same thing. None of these outlets have broken major stories involving their league partners). Investigative journalism doesn't make ESPN money, television does. In fact, you can fairly argue that investigative journalism costs ESPN money because it antagonizes league partners.
That's always worth keeping in mind.
Rhett W. writes:
"If you could have a fake girlfriend who would it be? Would you completely make someone up or go for a homerun with someone like Katherine Webb? Sure it might come out quickly that you weren't dating someone famous, but you could really live it up in the few minutes of fame."
I'd want to fake date famous actresses I think.
So I'd probably fake date Salma Hayek, Blake Lively, Jennifer Lawrence, the blonde and the brunette moms from Modern Family at the same time, Kerry Washington -- we went to GW at the same time! -- maybe Natalie Portman too.
Why limit yourself to just one fake girlfriend?
I also might fake date Samantha Ponder because can you imagine the stories, a love triangle with an NFL quarterback and a sideline reporter? Clay Travis is so scandalous! (FYI, Samantha Ponder is really funny so I think she'd ultimately handle our fake relationship really well. I'm encouraging her to start lighting up people on Twitter more often).
I would also totally fake date Kliff Kingsbury.
Chris B. writes:
"What fan base do you think would blindly follow their players without any regard to the story? I honestly never thought it would be Notre Dame, I mean aren't they supposed to be relatively smart folks? It can't be Alabama they can't really read or think of cogent arguments to counter evidence."
The average Notre Dame grad, very smart, the average Notre Dame fan, an idiot. That's a big distinction.
The dumber the fan base, the more likely they are to be true believers of whatever inanity their school puts out.
The five dumbest fan bases in America are:
4. Notre Dame
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
So all five of these fan bases would believe anything a person in a position of authority told them. For instance, if John Calipari was caught giving a player a suitcase full of cash on film, and then came out and said, "We were just filming a YouTube video to show players how not to take suitcases full of cash from me."
UK fans would take to the Internet and spout the talking points until they were blue in the face.
It's really not a surprise that many Notre Dame fans will believe exactly what the athletic director tells them. It's more of a surprise when a fan base actually thinks for itself.
Matthew C. writes:
"How much money would it take (if any) for you to go work for ESPN. And if you did would you consider yourself a sellout?"
I don't have anything against ESPN, but the reason people read my site or listen to me on the radio is because they know I'm being honest with what I say. With Outkick and 3HL and my new NBC radio show, I have tons of creative control over those ventures. (Within the limits of the FCC, which is why satellite radio down the road is intriguing.)
How many people in sports media have complete creative freedom, that is, they can say whatever they want, whenever they want to, without fear of getting in trouble for it?
Charles Barkley has the most creative freedom in sports media.
After Barkley who is it?
Jason Whitlock at Fox Sports would be my next draft pick.
The list shrinks in a hurry.
Michelle Beadle at NBC has a lot of leeway. Her new show has the potential to be outstanding if she really takes all of it. Bill Simmons at ESPN? But he constantly gripes about his lack of freedom. After that you can make the argument that it's me, Spencer Hall at SB Nation and Drew Magary at Deadspin.
That might be it in terms of people who have substantial creative freedom in sports.
Given that I completely own Outkick, which is becoming a pretty good business, why would I give that up to go somewhere else? It would have to be an amazing opportunity that also guaranteed me complete creative freedom. Meanwhile, it would also have to be ridiculous money. And who is going to give me that guarantee with all that money?
Usually the more money you take the less freedom you have. The only guy in the media content business I can think of who has broken that paradigm is Howard Stern.