Scandal of the Week: Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, or Lance Armstrong’s Juiced Testicle?

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by John McNeill

Midwest Correspondent, White Cover Magazine

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Naturally, a lot of people have linked Manti Te’o with Lance Armstrong. Their lies are not even similar, and Te’o’s is not even proven. But, you can’t slip anything by the always-frantic and often inaccurate minds of today’s watercooler news audience.

Armstrong lied about doping for a decade. Te’o either lied about having a dead girlfriend, or he was the victim of somebody else’s “sick hoax” (his words not mine). But, right now, a lot of people are naturally pointing the finger at Te’o. And, why not? Nothing adds up in this story. Reason would suggest he knew very well what was happening and logic suggests he was a part of it.

That still doesn’t even draw the link between two athletes from vastly different sports and of almost opposite age groups. Te’o is a college graduate, or will be. Armstrong is an over-the-hill cyclist who got better once he lost a testicle.

Ah, yes. Would that be the only real comparable here? Can we try and analyze outrage by asking ourselves slanderous hypotheticals? Well, I’ll try.

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If Te’o was juicing, it wouldn’t really matter. This is football, after all. Even if those guys are on ‘roids, they’re taking so many over and under the counter syringes with mysterious clear liquid for every ailment on their rapidly deteriorating bodies.

(Just ask Jason Taylor.)

Besides, even if an NFLer was on the juice, would we really care?

We’d say we would, certainly. We’d never want to be seen as apathetic or cynical to the process. We’d never want to be that one guy who doesn’t care about athletes or cheating or the integrity of the game. No. Never. Except, we wouldn’t care. We really wouldn’t. We lie to ourselves all the time about our compassions and our opinions, and then we lie to others.

We’ll all a little fu*ked. Athletes just can’t hide it, and it gets even worse when they become celebrities like Te’o and Armstrong.

Te’o (if he’s an acting partner in the hoax and not a victim) would have lied about death. He would have lied about illness. What if Armstrong had done the same? Would we really care about drugs if there was more at play?

There has been a lot of talk about the Livestrong foundation. We’re all wondering where their future goes from here, and whether Armstrong’s admission of doping has ruined Livestrong’s reputation. Which is crazy. Armstrong beat cancer and won the Tour de France seven straight times. No amount of anabolic assistance changes that. Even if his titles have been taken away from him — which they have — all of us who remember those races still remember seeing Lance cross the finish line with that yellow jersey and his tunic sponsored by the US Postal service. We’ll remember him winning as much as we’ll remember him lying, which is a shame in more ways than one.

But, for a lot of people, Armstrong’s lies are about something else. They’re about betrayal. Even though Armstrong’s crimes were not personal nor do they affect any of our daily lives, a lot of people are taking it that way. For example, ESPN’s Rick Reilly, who has made a career out of taking things personally:

Among my emails Wednesday morning, out of the blue, was one from Lance Armstrong.

Riles, I’m sorry.

All I can say for now but also the most heartfelt thing too. Two very important words.

L

And my first thought was … “Two words? That’s it?”

Two words? For 14 years of defending a man? And in the end, being made to look like a chump?

Wrote it, said it, tweeted it: “He’s clean.” Put it in columns, said it on radio, said it on TV. Staked my reputation on it.

(*I realize that quote was longer than the normally allowed ‘Three Paragraphs’ for Fair Use, but Reilly didn’t give me much choice. He hit the enter button in that introduction more times than was humanly necessary.)

For Reilly, maybe Armstrong’s admission is personal. More like his lies are personal. For me, they’re not, so I can’t compare myself to him. I can only imagine Manti Te’o’s situation, though, is very personal for a lot of people in Notre Dame and probably a few in Hawaii.

(*That’s the thing about taking things personally: it so obviously puts our emotions out of touch with everyone else’s and the things they take personally.)

I’m not sure whether death or doping are more personal. I’m not sure whether the waft of betrayal stinks more in either situation. I don’t think it matters, but I still wonder. I’m a human being and I’m curious. Sue me. (You probably will.)

So, then, let’s try and put it in perspective. Why not ask…

Which would have been worse: if Armstrong had lied about doping, or if Armstrong had lied about having cancer?

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