Draft stock falling? | January 17, 2013 by

Manti Te’o, the runner up in the Heisman trophy race, is involved in a scandal that has virtually everyone in America horrified, confused, intrigued or maybe even in stitches. He is a senior from Notre Dame who is expected to be drafted in the first round of the up-coming NFL draft and has been talked about as potentially a top 5 or even top 10 pick. He is a Mormon from Hawai’i who chose to go to Catholic Notre Dame and was the key catalyst for leading his team to the BCS national championship game where they were obliterated by Alabama.

The story of his and Notre Dame’s miraculous season is added to by the addition that both his grandmother and girlfriend (Lennay Kekua) died within 6 hours of each other on the 12th of September. Manti did not attend Lennay’s funeral on the 22nd of September because of a request she made for him not to miss a game for her and that night he intercepted 2 passes in a Notre Dame victory over Michigan to take them to 4-0. This story of heroism in the face of such a personal disaster gripped the USA and his Heisman candidacy took off with him appearing on the cover of an issue of sport illustrated.

Kekua died of Leukaemia which was discovered after she had a car crash which nearly killed her. After detection of the leukaemia she had a bone marrow transplant and her condition improved meaning she was able to graduate from Stanford before taking a turn for the worse. She was treated in LA with Te’o apparently falling asleep on the phone to her and waking up to an eight hour phone call still connected with her breathing on the other end of the line. September the 10th she was released from hospital with Manti’s father reportedly congratulating her over the telephone. Less than 48 hours later Te’o was told by her brother that she had died.

However, last night it was revealed in an article by deadspin that Kekua never actually existed even though it has been claimed that Te’o spoke to her regularly (including the eight hour phone calls) and even met her a few times in his native Hawai’i. There is no record of her having been born, attending Stanford, being in a crash, having leukaemia or even passing away.

The picture that was used on television to show Lennay was actually a picture of another unnamed woman taken from her Facebook account. One of the photos used on Lennay’s twitter profile was a picture that had never been posted online according to the unnamed women and she had sent it to an old school friend of hers, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, after he had requested her to take it while holding a sign saying MSMK. Later @loveMSMK became Lennay’s twitter handle with the picture becoming her avatar.

Tuiasosopo apparently became weird when questioned by the unnamed women over the picture and moments after she had called him the photo was removed. Manti and Ronaiah appear to know each other with Manti retweeting Tuiasopo in May 2012 and they have been described as ‘at least family friends’. Just to add to the confusion Tuiasosopo was in a car crash just a month earlier than Lennay’s apparent accident had occurred.

That is the basics of the story but one of the spin off questions that has arisen is the effect of this apparent hoax on the draft stock of Manti Te’o. After his performance in the national championship game many believed his stock to have fallen already with him having been touted by some as a potential #1 overall pick for the Chiefs.

My opinion on the situation is that this is not the worst thing that Te’o could be dealing with going to the combine and the draft. Obviously it is not ideal because the next three months are hard for all potential draftees and more questions and worry is the last thing he needs but NFL teams would have more red flags about him if he had an injury prone ankle or he had failed a drugs test than him falling for a hoax, known as catfishing, or even being involved in the hoax in order to gain more votes for the Heisman.

As far as I am aware no laws have been broken during the hoax and therefore NFL teams will have to worry about possible sanctions for their first round draft pick so on that front it should not be an issue for NFL teams either. However, there are of course going to be teams who are going to move him down their draft boards at the risk that this could become more but for every team that moves him down there will be another team with a pick lower in the first round who may be able to get what many considered a top 10 pick in the bottom half of the first round. This could be of a benefit to Te’o because being the face of a franchise is probably not what he needs right now and if he is drafted by the likes of Pittsburgh he may actually get to sit the majority of the year while this whole situation blows over.

The three options are that Te’o was totally oblivious to the hoax, was involved from the start or he was embarrassed by the hoax and rather than come out and admit he had been ‘catfished’ he and Ronaiah came up with a cover story in order to gain him sympathy and avoid embarrassment. The third option is the most likely of the situations but if it is the first then his intelligence will likely be questioned which again could be potential red flags but the fact he attended a school like Notre Dame tells you that he is a smart guy.

If it is the third option hopefully, for Manti, NFL teams can look at it as a young man who was naïve and made some drastic steps to protect his reputation only for it to fall apart in spectacular style. Unless Te’o is injured or a serious flaw in his character or health is discovered I expect to hear his name on the first day of the draft and while this story will follow him around for the rest of his life hopefully one day his play on the field can overshadow this crazy story.

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