Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Michaux: In wake of Te'o and Armstrong stories, what can we believe anymore?

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 2:07 PM
Last updated 8:42 PM
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Usain Bolt had bionic tendons implanted in his legs and undergoes cheetah-blood transfusions the night before every race.

Gary Player is a closeted sugar addict who secretly hoards Twinkies in a South African bunker.

Tim Tebow covertly operates a string of sweat shops in the Philippines.

All of these above claims, of course, are as real as Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend. But the icon myth busting is reaching such epic proportions it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake anymore in the world of sports.

On the eve of cancer-surviving cycling demigod Lance Armstrong’s anticipated televised doping confessional to Oprah Winfrey, sports fans were rocked with another exposé of a too-good-to-be-true tall tale. All of this just a week after baseball failed to induct any formerly sure-fire superstars into the Hall of Fame because of the spreading taint of steroids.

Turns out the dead girlfriend at the foundation of the Manti Te’o Heisman-building campaign was just another Notre Dame myth. The second punch of the double whammy of tragic news Te’o received a few days before his breakout Michigan State performance – that his grandmother (real) and leukemia-stricken girlfriend (not real) died within hours of each other – was just a tragedy enhancer that triggered a media escalation about a classic story of perseverance.

That story, combined with Te’o’s athletic gifts, helped not only fuel Notre Dame’s drive to the BCS title game but pushed Te’o to runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting – the highest finish ever by an exclusively defensive player. It allowed many voters to completely ignore the fact that Te’o’s stats weren’t as impressive as at least two other exceptional defensive players (South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones) whose impacts were arguably as significant to their own top 10 programs’ successes.

There’s nothing like a good backstory involving the Fighting Irish to get out the vote nationally.

Te’o and Notre Dame now claim he was the victim of a “cruel hoax” that they didn’t find out about until Dec. 26 but didn’t bother to come clean about publicly until not just long after the story was perpetuated on the BCS stage, but after Deadspin.com exposed the fabrication in great detail.

Perhaps Te’o was duped in a long con, but his own actions and statements raise plenty more questions. At best, he merely got caught up in his own legend, adding detailed embellishments (the eye contact at a Stanford game in 2009, the supposed meetings in Hawaii, the flowers sent to the non-existent funeral) once he realized just how strongly the story was playing to eager masses and how it elevated his profile.

At heart, Te’o is yet another cautionary tale of hero building. We all watch sports to see amazing athletes do amazing things, and we so desperately want to believe the ones who every now and then seem too good to be true. The media failed its due diligence, although it was easy not to doubt the authenticity of a story that was held aloft by so many different sources involving such a well-respected team leader.

The Armstrong demise is another sad story altogether. Reasonable people did doubt whether it was possible for a cancer survivor to race “clean” in the notoriously dirty sport of cycling and win an unprecedented seven consecutive times in the world’s most grueling human sports event, the Tour de France. As someone who stood on the Champs-Élysées the day Armstrong took that seventh victory lap in Paris, I wanted it to be real even though deep down we knew he had to be like all the rest – only better.

So many people longed to believe it and believe his years and years of emphatic denials. Then came the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that was so extensive that even Armstrong couldn’t deny it anymore. He quit the bullying and then finally called upon Oprah to confess so he can try to rebrand himself and salvage a second act. After all the serial lying, who’s buying?

Sports have become so judgmental. Armstrong and Te’o are just the newest installments in the Hall of Shame following the recent inductions of Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods and an entire generation of baseball players. We all cheered when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa “saved the game” with their home run derby in 1998, only now voters flatly refuse to ever let either one of them into Cooperstown without paying admission.

The Hall of Fame status of unquestionable baseball giants like Barry Bonds* and Roger Clemens* are at risk after initial rebuffs on the ballot.

This is the state of modern athletics in the performance-enhanced, Internet era. Heroes and icons are built up until they stumble into being punchlines on social media. So walk a tight rope Rory McIlroy, Robert Griffin III, Bryce Harper, et al.

And when the next superstar comes along, we would appreciate it if you bring to the interview room a blood sample, certificate of live birth, any relevant published death notices, notarized affidavits from references and at least two vetted and reliable witnesses.

Comments (26) Add comment
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Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/17/13 - 03:14 pm
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Te'o had a cruel hoax played

Te'o had a cruel hoax played on him as far as we know. I certainly wouldn't put him in the Lance Armstrong category. Armstrong is a disgrace. Sheryl Crow, too, for lying for him.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/17/13 - 03:27 pm
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Lots of questions

Going to be a while before the T'eo fiasco is known in detail. Still lots of "huh?".

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 01/17/13 - 04:07 pm
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RM

If it's okay to take anaesthetics to overcome muscle pain in football games, it ought to be okay to take steroids.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/17/13 - 04:17 pm
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LL, possibly, but the

LL, possibly, but the constant lying for years by Armstrong makes me want to puke. I'd kick him in his one remaining you know what.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/17/13 - 04:18 pm
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T'eo will end up with the

T'eo will end up with the Raiders after all this.

americafirst
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americafirst 01/17/13 - 04:21 pm
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Come on, RM, are you as

Come on, RM, are you as gullible as Te'o claims to be. The man said he had met her, his father said she had visited him in Hawaii, in all the interviews about her he never once even insinuated that he had never met her. One thing is absolutely undisputed: Te'o lied. The only question is whether he was in on it from the beginning. There is also no doubt they covered it up and sat on it until after the NC game and probably never would have come clean if not for the Deadspin article.

David Parker
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David Parker 01/17/13 - 05:02 pm
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You can trust the Mayans.

You can trust the Mayans. That we know!

soapy_725
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soapy_725 01/17/13 - 05:29 pm
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What is the difference between Notre Dame/Mr. Te'O and
Unpublished

Lucky Charms Cereal? One belongs in a bowl. Major hype for a game that was going nowhere. BCS, ABC, ESPN and VEGAS all made a mint. Te'O got his fifteen minutes of lying on his back with his arm outstretched. Another reality show in the making. "Hawaii 42-14, the Victim" How can Te'O perform at the pro level? He was barely collegiate.

Te'O couldn't make any tackles for watching AJ's real girlfriend on the jumbo tron. LOL LOL

ymnbde
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ymnbde 01/17/13 - 08:56 pm
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the sports "media"

reports on those it idolizes... no way you'll ever get the truth.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/17/13 - 09:08 pm
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AmericaFirst, yeah, I know

AmericaFirst, yeah, I know what you mean and that's why I said in my first post..."as far as we know." I've heard all the things being suggested that he was in on the hoax. We'll see, but I admit things are looking worse and worse.

freeradical
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freeradical 01/17/13 - 09:29 pm
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sports players are taught to

sports players are taught to lie , cheat , steal , and drug from the

start .

Quit acting surprised.

The entire industry is corupt to the core .

Gage Creed
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Gage Creed 01/17/13 - 09:54 pm
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I wonder if Costas and

I wonder if Costas and Whitlock edited this piece for Michaux....

KSL
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KSL 01/17/13 - 10:59 pm
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Our college athletes played

Our college athletes played fairly close to home. They had 2 parents who could keep them grounded, not that they needed it. Heard stories about teammates, though.

KSL
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KSL 01/17/13 - 11:02 pm
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Our college athletes played

Good coaches, too.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/17/13 - 11:19 pm
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Maybe T'eo could do

Maybe T'eo could do commercials for e-Harmony.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 01/18/13 - 07:46 am
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what can we believe anymore?

"NOTHING" Not even what we see with our very own eyes...

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/18/13 - 08:25 am
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River

Please be respectful. Remember, someone who never exsisted has died.

Beachgal
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Beachgal 01/18/13 - 09:03 am
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Football players and anesthetics

My understanding is that college football players have been getting Toradol when they have muscle pain during a game. Toradol is a liquid NSAID. I call it intravenous or intramuscular Motrin. It is non-narcotic and non-habit forming. I don't agree that players should be "propped up" by a medication to keep them playing, but I have a hard time putting it in the same category as performance enhancing drugs.

YeCats
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YeCats 01/18/13 - 09:07 am
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She might have existed.......

She might have existed....... she was supposedly born/lived in Hawaii, right?

seenitB4
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seenitB4 01/18/13 - 09:15 am
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JTF

You are funny this morning lol..

seenitB4
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seenitB4 01/18/13 - 09:17 am
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Yall just haven't lived

Till you have that internet love....so much fun....so exciting...so daring....so NOT THERE!!! lol
At least you can't get pregnant...hah

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/18/13 - 09:41 am
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JTF, yeah, but Notre Dame is

JTF, yeah, but Notre Dame is such a romantic place, they'll fall for anything. Win One for the Gipper, Rudy, Rocky Bleier Story. Just let Notre Dame come up with a great story about a player and put them in the national championship game if they have won six games.

David Parker
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David Parker 01/18/13 - 10:17 am
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They shoot up cortisone all

They shoot up cortisone all the time for pain. Makes me feel like superman. Feeling like superman is habit-forming.

ymnbde
9580
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ymnbde 01/18/13 - 10:40 am
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the mainstream "media"

also reports on those it idolizes... no way we'll ever get the truth

justthefacts
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justthefacts 01/18/13 - 11:16 am
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River

Hadn't heard much about the rape/suicide incident at ND have we?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/18/13 - 12:12 pm
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JTF, nope...that's crossed my

JTF, nope...that's crossed my mind, too, after hearing Lou Holtz last night on Hannity. He said ND always gets to the bottom of things and doesn't cover-up anything. Ha.

But you try pulling an intertnet hoax on SEC football players. They would be like, "Huh? You want to be my girlfriend, you come here and let me see that skin."

allhans
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allhans 01/18/13 - 01:56 pm
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Bill Kirby..a man voted

Bill Kirby..a man voted Republican all of his life, then died in Chicago and now votes Democrat....

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