Guy W. Farmer: Armstrong and Te’o: Lies and hoaxes
January 27, 2013
With apologies to Darrell Moody and Joe Santoro, I’m going to weigh-in with my second consecutive sports column today. Last Sunday’s column was about veteran ESPN sportscaster Brent Musburger. Today’s is about the trials and tribulations of disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong and Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o, who fell deeply in love with an imaginary woman he never met.
“Why do you write about such trivial matters?” one of my friends asked. “Because people are interested in star athletes,” I replied, “and because both cases offer teachable moments.”
To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, the Armstrong saga proves that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.
For those of you from other planets, Armstrong overcame cancer and won the world’s toughest bike race, the Tour de France, seven times. So far, so good until we learned that he also was the CEO of a vast doping enterprise, which he denied for many years until he was exposed as an accomplished liar and serial cheater by world anti-doping authorities and Sports Illustrated. At that point Armstrong “confessed” to Oprah Winfrey (Who else?), and sort of apologized for getting caught.
“Without doping, Lance Armstrong would be nobody,” wrote S.I.’s Michael Rosenberg. “He wouldn’t be on Oprah’s couch … because Oprah would have no clue who he was. Without doping Armstrong would be just another guy running a bike shop in Austin, Texas.” Well said.
To his credit, Armstrong raised millions of dollars for cancer research through his Livestrong Foundation before his empire came crashing down around him. But now he’s just another major league cheater like pumped-up baseball stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, who also used performance enhancing drugs. I hope none of them ever make anyone’s Hall of Fame.
Te’o is a gifted athlete from Hawaii who had a compelling “narrative” – a dramatic story about how he bravely overcame the simultaneous deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend to lead Notre Dame to the national championship college football game and finish second in the race for the prestigious Heisman Trophy, given to the nation’s best player. It was a heartwarming story until it turned out that Teo’s dead girlfriend, the lovely (according to her photo) Lennay Kekua, never existed except in cyberspace.
Some skeptics wondered whether the imaginary girlfriend was manufactured by the high-powered Notre Dame PR department, while others speculated that Te’o, a devout Mormon, must surely be one of the most naïve and/or gullible athletes in the history of sports. Although the ephemeral Ms. Kekua was his online soulmate for three years, they never actually met. The new University of Nevada football coach, Brian Polian, who recruited Te’o to Notre Dame, immediately assured everyone that “this isn’t the kid I know.” OK Brian, we believe you … maybe.
The alleged perpetrator of this elaborate hoax, 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a member of a prominent football family, supposedly apologized to Te’o, but Tuiasosopo still hasn’t spoken publicly about the weird incident. “We want to do it right,” he said after hiring an attorney and a PR person. Can the book, the movie and the mini-series be far behind? Stay tuned.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a lifelong sports fan. Go Niners!