Manti Te'o (Pat Lovell/USA Today)
Manti Te’o’s first press conference (he’s done TV) since his girlfriend was revealed to be a hoax became a media event – twice. The first expected gathering was a hoax of its own, followed by the biggest media gathering in NFL Scouting Combine history.
No reporters or cameramen were injured in the filming of Manti Te’o. That alone might have been an accomplishment given the crush of media, despite what turned out to be a relatively tame press conference.
This was supposed to be the reporters’ gold rush at the potential expense of the Golden Domer, their big opportunity to turn a story about a college kid that was duped by an online “woman” that never existed, then wasn’t forthcoming about the incident when it was revealed that the “woman” he claimed was his girlfriend never existed but was only the online creation of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former friend of Te’o’s.
“It was just a whirlwind of stuff,” Te’o said of not being immediately forthcoming when he realized his online girlfriend never existed. “A 22-year-old, 21-year old at that time, just trying to get your thoughts right. Everybody was just kind of chaos for a little bit, so you let that chaos die down and wait until everybody’s ready to listen.”
This wasn’t a murderer or drug dealer talking at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but this was an opportunity to further publicize the hoax heard round the world. Just the suggestion that Te’o was within an hour of talking to the assembled media Saturday morning sent reporters from their work stations surrounding three large interview areas and eight interview tables scurrying to Podium C.
Turned out, the head-ups was a hoax – or at least inaccurate – on its own. Te’o was in Indianapolis, but he was still with doctors as part of the players’ marathon three-day sessions in front of NFL teams, moving from strength and agility training to medical and psychological examining.
During the false alarm, as hundreds of reporters gathered for whatever Te’o might have to offer, one reporter started to grow impatient after only a few minutes of standing around. “Do we even know he’s coming. … They said within an hour.”
“They” was a tweet from the NFL, ironically delivering false information via another social network, the very downfall of Te’o himself.
The gathering started at 1 o’clock with the 32 chairs for reporters surrounded by more than a hundred people standing around taking pictures of the self-fulfilling flocking of media. They were there looking at each other … and an empty podium. That, of course, drew the jokes that the make-believe girlfriend was actually at the podium. About 20 minutes after the gathering, the announcement came that Te’o wouldn’t be speaking for at least a hundred more minutes.
“The media just got catfished,” joked one reporter, a reference to the emerging term of being the victim of an online dating hoax.
The media mass unwound and turned to the lunch line, living up to the reporter stereotypes. Just the rumor of Te’o talking sent Twitter abuzz with “Manti Te’o” as the top trend.
Two hours later, at 2:14 p.m. Eastern, the Notre Dame linebacker was escorted to the podium, the only one of 333 prospects to have an NFL Network camera follow him up to the podium to film the media circus while it filmed back. From the vantage point of the a large camera stand about 30 feet from the podium, one could view both Te’o talking live and three monitors of him on tape delay on NFL Network. Cameras, far more than 50 and far too intermingled in the crowd to count accurately, pointed everywhere.
“It’s pretty crazy. I’ve been in front of a few cameras, but not as many as this,” Te’o said.
He couldn’t have been too surprised. Ever since he the girlfriend was revealed to be a hoax, it has been front and center in the media, with Te’o even making a list of most hated athletes for not revealing the truth on his own, even if he was the victim during most of their relationship.
“It got overwhelming at times,” he said of the coverage.
And, now, it’s just embarrassing.
“It’s definitely embarrassing. When you’re walking through grocery stores and you’re kind of like giving people double-takes to see if they’re staring at you, it’s definitely embarrassing,” Te’o said. “I guess it’s part of the process, it’s part of the journey. You know it’s only going to make me stronger and it definitely has.”
Even veteran reporters and analysts that have been covering the combine for decades were amazed at the coverage – estimated to be more than 30 percent bigger than Tim Tebow or Maurice Clarett generated. More than 800 media credentials were issued for the combine; about 300 of them crowded around Te’o’s podium.
“About the incident, I’ve said all I need to say about that. How I’m handling it going forward is doing what I’m doing,” Te’o said. “Focusing on the moment, focusing on football and the combine. Not everybody gets this opportunity to be here. I’m sure there’s thousands and thousands of people who would like to be here in Indianapolis. Just trying to enjoy the moment.”
The focus was clearly on him and he knew it. Whether he was actually enjoying it is hard to know.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.