Media feeds fascination with sports WAGs
It's our own fault.
No matter how the Manti Te'o fantasy romance story turns out – and there is no possible scenario in which that story ends well – we are the ones who created the environment where such craziness can thrive. We are the ones who crafted a world where girlfriends, real and imagined, are as integral a part of the sports news cycle as the athletes themselves.
And we are the ones responsible for the line between private lives and public behavior not just being blurred, but, for all practical purposes, being obliterated.
Remember when Tiger Woods' ex-wife Elin Nordegren was photographed in a bikini in Miami? Do you remember why? What possible news value could be found in the story: "Swedish woman wears bathing suit to the beach?" It was May. There were more blondes than seagulls on South Beach.
But somehow every move the former Mrs. Woods made – from dating and then breaking up with billionaire financier Jamie Dingman, to buying and then razing a beachfront home in Palm Beach – became a reportable item. Now, according to reporting at the National Enquirer, Tiger has proposed again to Nordegren in the hopes that she will re-marry him and join the frenzy once more.
Sometimes the athletes themselves cause trouble by throwing pictures of their pals up on social media. The week after winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Dustin Johnson withdrew from the Sony Open in Hawaii citing flu-like symptoms. The only problem was that he forgot to close out his Instagram account, so photos of him lounging around a hotel pool with his new gal-pal Paulina Gretzky whipped around the globe in record speed.
Before that, Rory McIlroy made the 23-year-old mistake of taking a picture of his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, while she was catching a quick nap, her head on a table, drool dangling from the corner of her mouth. The photo itself was innocent and charming enough, but then McIlroy shared it with a few million of his closest friends on Twitter and Facebook. By the end of the day, it has been seen by fans from San Antonio to Sydney.
Far from being "off limits," the intimates of today's athletes are just as likely to make headlines as the athletes. And in some cases, the media attention feeds the relationship as much as the relationship feeds the media.
Miss Alabama Katherine Webb gained 200,000 Twitter followers, a spot on the Today Show and she will serve as a Super Bowl correspondent for Inside Edition and appear in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue after the 30 seconds of attention Brent Musburger gave her during the BCS Championship game. Then there's Johnny Manziel's model girlfriend, Sarah Savage, who was the subject of over a million Google searches after photos from the Heisman ceremony started making the rounds.
It's unhealthy, but it is the way of the modern world. Tiger's plane lands in Austria on the way to Abu Dhabi and the entire world starts checking Twitter and Facebook to see who else was in Salzburg at the time. It's prurient and grimy, and people can't look away. Because information is instant, so, too, is speculation.
It is one of the things that makes the Te'o tale so bizarre. In a world where Real Housewives become fake celebrities and a photo of a famous couple having breakfast in the morning can be seen my millions before lunch, the idea that an entirely fictionalized human being could gain so much traction for so long seems to defy logic.
Then again, with all the hype surrounding athletes these days, a made-up girlfriend might be the way to go. At least then one of you can get some peace.