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Kadner: Catfishing, hoaxes and reality boost entertainment in sports

FILE - In this Nov. 17 2012 file phoNotre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o walks off field following an NCAA college

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o walks off the field following an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest in South Bend, Ind. A story that Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia _ a loss he said inspired him to help lead the Irish to the BCS championship game _ was dismissed by the university Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:44AM



Manti Te’o has renewed my interest in college sports.

According to sports talk show hosts and reporters, Notre Dame’s star linebacker may be among the cleverest jocks in the history of sport.

Many of these observers speculate that this guy created a fictional girlfriend who was injured in a terrible auto accident and then died from a terrible illness. He then persuaded all of the greatest minds in sports journalism not to fact-check any of this stuff.

Notre Dame, seemingly oblivious to the fact that one of its students is alleged to have outsmarted sophisticated adults more than twice his age, claims that Te’o is not the mastermind of an elaborate hoax but an innocent victim.

If that’s true, it will reinforce the image of football players as dullards who are easily duped by techno-geeks, and Notre Dame officials can breathe a sigh of relief. Better to be seen producing dimwits after four years of college than tarnish the reputation of the football program.

And isn’t there a great episode for the writers of “The Big Bang Theory” somewhere in all of this?

However the story turns out, it fascinates me on a number of levels.

For one, I confess, until late last week I thought catfishing was something that was done with a pole and worms. It turns out it’s a word used to describe a scam where people on Facebook and other social media pretend to be someone they’re not.

It was popularized in a movie I had never heard of, which turned into a TV show I have never watched.

Viewers are apparently shocked to discover that there are people in the world who would deceive, humiliate and harm other human beings.

Somewhere in Nigeria, there’s a person laughing as he writes, “I am the council treasurer for a foreign country and have recently come into possession of $100,000 (U.S. currency) and if you would just mail me a check ...”

I guess the unique thing about catfishing is that instead of looking for some financial reward, the social media imposters are merely hoaxing people for the fun of it.

Such are the advantages of living in the industrial world, where fraud can be indulged in as a game instead of for personal gain.

But then there’s Lance Armstrong. Armstrong is not an innocent dupe but a guilty doper.

The winner of seven Tour de France races, Armstrong became an American icon but is now disgraced and has lost his endorsement deals because he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Why did Armstrong have endorsement deals? Because he was a superstar athlete. Because, as a cancer survivor, he had a great story.

There are lots of scientists, college professors and truck drivers out there with great stories and who have survived cancer, but they don’t get endorsement deals from Nike because people don’t care about them.

I would bet there’s even a trucker out there who had to drive cross country the day his grandma died, just like Manti Te’o had to play a football game.

The fact is that no matter how often athletes lie, cheat or beat their wives, Americans still love them.

That seems sort of unfair to congressmen, if you ask me.

The media have also taken a beating in the case of Te’o for failing to ask penetrating questions, for refusing to dig into his private life, for not exposing his personal story as a hoax early on.

The irony is that reporters are often accused of being too cynical, of shouting difficult questions at grieving people and digging up all sorts of “trash” about the private lives of public figures.

I wonder how the public would’ve reacted if the week before Notre Dame’s championship game against Alabama some reporter had asked Te’o at a news conference, “About that dead girlfriend of yours ...”

Like many fans, I don’t read the sports pages for news. I read them to escape the crime, corruption and mayhem in the “real” world.

But everything that happens in the one seems to spill over into the other these days.

A basketball game between Morgan Park and Simeon high schools in Chicago ended in a fight, and a student was shot to death outside the gym after the game.

Guns, crime and violence are right there on the sports page along with Lance Armstrong’s doping and that Notre Dame catfish thing.

The solution for the public high schools, the experts say, is to have them play their games in an empty gym. Get rid of the guns, get rid of the fans and the world will be a more peaceful place.

You don’t need a Facebook page to perpetrate a nasty hoax on the public.

By comparison, I find the story about the Notre Dame football player and his woes far more entertaining than anything else in recent years. There’s a real sense of mystery about it.

Who came up with this elaborate scheme? What was the goal?

Was there a real girl involved or wasn’t there? Who will play the main characters in the made-for-TV movie?

And can I be cast as one of the sportswriters too sensitive to ask the Notre Dame star why he didn’t bother to visit his girlfriend in the hospital after her car accident or while she was dying from leukemia? Or attend her funeral?

However this story turns out, no matter who the victim or perpetrators turn out to be, it has been a diversion from the real-life stuff that really gets me angry.

I mean millions of dollars are being spent on President Barack Obama’s inaugural events on Monday, after roughly $2 billion was spent on the presidential election campaigns, and there are people being tossed out of their homes.

I would rather think about a dead girl who didn’t exist than any of that.

Sports, it turns out, is still top-notch entertainment.



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