Staring at the sun: How the quest for greatness blinds us to the shadows
Manti Te’o, linebacker, University of Notre Dame.
47 consecutive games started.
212 solo tackles.
Most decorated defensive player in college football history.
Heisman trophy runner-up.
When the news broke that he wasn’t getting the Heisman, it surprised a lot of people, and many of them had the same complaints:
- “Manti Te’o only got snubbed because he’s a defensive player and it’s been fifteen years since a defensive player won the Heisman.”
- “Manti Te’o is from the independent Notre Dame. Heisman winner Johnny Manziel is from the SEC so therefore everyone thinks he is automatically awesome.”
- “Johnny Manziel had been previously arrested for fighting at a College Station bar.”
Unless you’re Reggie Bush, you don’t give back your Heisman trophy, and people eventually move on. Roughly a month after the awards, the acclaimed Notre Dame defense under Te’o was humiliated by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship.
Recently, Notre Dame found out one of the drawbacks to being in the limelight: When the sun’s radiance is beating down on your eyes, someone’s going to put on shades.
And under the protective lens of the sunglasses, people are going to see shadows, and people are going to start asking questions.
“Manti Te’o, your inspirational story was based on a hoax, can you explain why?”
If you’ve not tuned in to sports news lately, here is the recap —
In early September, Manti Te’o’s grandmother passed away. Six hours later, his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, passed away from leukemia. Manti Te’o took the field that night against rival Michigan and led the team’s defense to a 20-3 win that was the beginning of a meteoric rise to the coveted #1 ranking in college football. It was a story everyone could get behind — tragedy turning into success and bringing Notre Dame back to its storied glory as a college football powerhouse.
Except for one tiny, itty-bitty, snag: Lennay Kekua didn’t exist. She was a hoax, and Deadspin — responsible for breaking the story– has a great piece about it.
There is one thing we can draw from the story: We, as a nation, take college football so seriously that we don’t care what happens when the lights in the stadiums are dim, so long as there’s a winning team out there hitting paydirt.
And because they are winning, people remain blinded by a story that is more perturbing than a hoax involving a dead girlfriend.
Two years before Manti Te’o was in the running for Heisman, a story was released that a freshman from nearby St. Mary’s College, Lizzy Seeberg, was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame player. After she accused the player, one of his friends severely threatened her.
“Don’t do anything you would regret.”
“Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”
Seeberg committed suicide shortly after the events. The investigation was kept hush hush. The accused players were not disciplined and did not miss out on a single game.
And the worst part of it all? This is just becoming news, two years after the fact.
The university had evidence of wrongdoing, but refused to take immediate action to investigate. The university president himself, John Jenkins did not meet with the victim’s family and refused to get too much in-depth knowledge of the case.
The university did nothing.
In the winter of 2011, the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky case blew up in the national media. Sandusky, a defensive coordinator for Penn State and responsible for helping the team earn national prominence, was found to have molested children over the course of a decade, at the Penn State campus and elsewhere. This all occurred under the nose of Joe Paterno, one of college football’s most storied coaches and at the time the leader in wins by a head coach in history. When Joe Paterno found out about the abuse, all he did was simply take it to his superiors, who declined to take decisive action.
In the aftermath, Joe Paterno died and had his wins from 1998-2011 posthumously vacated. Jerry Sandusky will likely never see the light of day again as he will serve a lengthy sentence for eight counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, seven counts of indecent assault, one count of criminal intent to commit indecent assault, nine counts of unlawful contact with minors, 10 counts of corruption of minors and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of children. The NCAA stamped Penn State with a hefty fine and banned them from post-season play.
Too little, too late; those children were still raped, and no one asked questions. No one asked why this storied defensive coordinator did not get lucrative offers from other programs. No one asked why after the first allegations surfaced in 1998, this man still had access to the Penn State facilities where he perpetrated his crime. No one asked why Joe Paterno, revered as a deity in Penn State, did not press further when he saw the inaction from the university’s president.
And no one is asking Notre Dame why, with all the Penn State controversy painfully fresh in our minds, they are still doing nothing.
As an institution, the NCAA is more concerned about athletes signing autographs to get some extra cash than they are about sexual abuse.
As a country, we need to reassess our priorities when it comes to sports. These are not deities. Athletes are not infallible men or women. They are people who need to be held to the same standard as everyone else. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an undefeated team or a team that hasn’t made a post-season bowl in decades.
No winning season is worth the sexual abuse of children.
No championship berth is worth covering up sexual assaults.
No victory is worth it if it comes at the cost of our souls.
Image source: http://nocoastbias.com/notre-dame-football-2012/