Matt’s Minute

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By MATT MCCORMACK

COLUMNIST

One of the more bizarre sports stories to ever surface in the sports world (or in general) occurred last week with the shocking revelation that Manti Te’o’s “deceased” girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never actually existed.  Everyone knows the made-for-TV sequence of events by now, so I’ll spare everyone another pointless regurgitation of the details.  This soap opera is just one more off-field issue distracting us from accomplishments taking place on the field.  The sad thing about this story is that, for all we know, Manti Te’o may be telling the truth when he claims that he had nothing to do with the hoax.  Our sports world however, has developed into a “guilty until proven innocent” culture mainly due to the deception and dishonesty of other premier athletes.

For example, it’s difficult not to draw parallels between the incessant denials of involvement from Te’o and the same denials that Lance Armstrong has been delivering ad nauseam for years.  Of course, last week Armstrong finally admitted that he has been taking illegal substances all these years, an admission which has ruined his reputation and, unfortunately, reduced the credibility of other athletes.

The steroid era in baseball has also played a large role in tainting the credibility and reputation of athletes.  This year, for the first time since 1996, nobody was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  None of the alleged steroid users (Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and others) even came close to receiving the necessary 75 percent of votes required for entry.  Despite the fact that it was never officially proven that Bonds or Clemens took steroids, the court of public opinion has outweighed the legal court system.  This “guilty until proven innocent” culture has even affected those in baseball who were never accused of taking steroids.  Take Mike Piazza, for example. As the premier offensive catcher of his era (and arguably ever), Piazza certainly deserved to enter as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  Many people suspect however, that he may have taken illegal substances simply because he played during the Steroid Era.  This time of distrust, fueled by the Steroid Era and the Armstrong debacle, raises the question: Who can we trust in the sports world?

In a perfect world, we would be able to give Te’o the benefit of the doubt without debating who tricked who or whether o not Te’o can really be that naïve.  Due to the current sports culture, however, it’s very hard to give someone a pass.  Another unfortunate by-product of these scandals is that they cloud the on-field accomplishments of athletes.  Very few people will remember Armstrong for battling and overcoming cancer; rather, he will always be remembered for his endless and shameless lying.  Likewise, this hoax will probably overshadow Te’o’s leadership during Notre Dame’s Cinderella run to the National Championship game.  Hopefully, as Te’o enters the NFL and begins a fruitful career, he will be able to create a new legacy that overcomes this hoax. Unfortunately, I believe that he will have a tough time doing this in our jaded culture.