Posts tagged football

How Did Sports Media Whiff on Manti Te'o's Fake Girlfriend?

Over at Slate, Josh Levin tries to suss out how and why the Sports Illustrated’s and ESPN’s of the world bought into the hoax that Manti Te’o had a girlfriend who died of leukemia at the beginning of the 2012 college football season.

Confirmation bias plays a role, he writes. This is the notion that people are prone to believe that which reinforces what they already believe, whether true or not. In this case, a national, fact-checked (most of the time?) magazine — Sports Illustrated — published a glowing feature on Te’o, complete with his religious, Boy Scout upbringing and personal triumph over tragedy. As his on field reputation grew, future reporters referenced biographical features found in the original SI feature without much thought.

Which leads Levin to explore the basic hagiography we use to report on celebrities. We apply well-worn, paint by numbers, templates — in this case, the heroic athlete overcoming adversity — that do both subjects and readers a disservice.

No matter what we learn about Te’o in the coming days, this black-and-white narrative—good man fixes bad things—enlightens no one and does the athlete no favors…

…Sports Illustrated looked at the linebacker and saw a classic template, not a human being who demanded the scantest thought or scrutiny. In the end, they got back the exact amount of effort they put in. This was journalism as fill-in-the-blank exercise, the creation of a simple story that tells you what you already know. In this case, what we already knew happened not to be the truth. If only Manti Te’o hadn’t been such a boy scout. Then we might have known how interesting he was all along.

Josh Levin, Slate. The Fake Girlfriend Experience.

There was no Lennay Kekua.

Lennay Kekua did not meet Manti Te’o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te’o in Hawaii. Lennay Kekua was not in a car accident. Lennay Kekua did not talk to Manti Te’o every night on the telephone. She was not diagnosed with cancer, did not spend time in the hospital, did not engage in a lengthy battle with leukemia. She never had a bone marrow transplant. She was not released from the hospital on Sept. 10, nor did Brian Te’o congratulate her for this over the telephone. She did not insist that Manti Te’o play in the Michigan State or Michigan games, and did not request he send white flowers to her funeral. Her favorite color was not white. Her brother, Koa, did not inform Manti Te’o that she was dead.

Koa did not exist. Her funeral did not take place in Carson, Calif., and her casket was not closed at 9 a.m. exactly. She was not laid to rest.

In a bizarre investigative report, Deadspin discovers that the dead girlfriend of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o was a fabrication.

As (mis)reported by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, CBS, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times and The South Bend Tribune among others, the Notre Dame football star carried a heavy heart throughout the 2012 football season when both his grandmother and Lennay Kekua, his girlfriend, died hours apart on the same September day.

Kekua, supposedly, due to complications from leukemia.

Turns out, Lennay Kekua is a fiction. Te’o, who says he met Kekua online, claims he is the victim of an Internet scam.

For the news organizations reporting on — and building up — the sad tale, let’s bring you back to newsroom 101 and the importance of fact checking: Just because one outlet reports it doesn’t make it true.

Read the piece though. A bizarre tale.

For more, ESPN does a follow-up.

The New York Post gets a little freaky with today’s front page, no?

The New York Post gets a little freaky with today’s front page, no?

Visualizing Football Player Media Coverage
Player height is scaled to number of mentions he received on ESPN’s Sportscenter or Sunday NFL Countdown during the 2011 season.
Via the New York Times.
Click to embiggen.

Visualizing Football Player Media Coverage

Player height is scaled to number of mentions he received on ESPN’s Sportscenter or Sunday NFL Countdown during the 2011 season.

Via the New York Times.

Click to embiggen.

Tebow goes Biblical on Steelers, Shows up Haters

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