Saturday's news conference was for us, and by us, I mean the reporters who covered it, the people who read about it and the league's television network, which replayed the full interview at least twice afterward.
INDIANAPOLIS — The least significant news conference at the league’s annual scouting combine was the most well attended.
Manti Te’o looked out Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium and said, yes, that’s the most cameras he had ever spoken to.
Half a dozen people stood on chairs for a better view. One brought his own stool. During a year in which a record 715 media members were credentialed to cover the combine, the most anticipated interview was with the Notre Dame linebacker whose dead girlfriend had been revealed as an Internet hoax.
For 14 minutes, 35 seconds, Te’o participated in a question-and-answer session that said way more about the media and its customers than it did about Te’o’s football future.
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This was not an inquiry into what happened. “The incident,” — as Te’o referred to it — has been fleshed out pretty fully. Boy meets girl (online). Boy falls in love with girl (online). Girl (online) turns out to actually be a young man in real life, who faked the girl’s death via cancer in September 2012 and then appeared on Dr. Phil after the hoax was revealed.
Saturday’s interview wasn’t about learning anything new about the circumstances. There isn’t anything more.
“I’ve said all I need to say about that,” Te’o said.
When Te’o was asked if he was dating anyone in “real life” it became clear that Saturday’s interview wasn’t about finding out further information so much as an exercise in making sure Te’o was both sorry and appropriately embarrassed.
It was time for Te’o to stand up, all alone, and answer for his role in the emotionally wrenching farce that had been perpetrated and afterward the audience of reporters talked about Te’o’s sincerity and tried to gauge how comfortable he looked as if that meant something.
Except it doesn’t. Not in terms of football.
Saturday’s news conference was for us, and by us, I mean the reporters who covered it, the people who read about it and the league’s television network, which replayed the full interview at least twice afterward.
It was an attempt to squeeze every last drop of emotion out of a situation that quite literally affected no one except the families of the two people who were involved.
This was as close as football gets to a freak show. Come look at the fierce linebacker who had a Facebook girlfriend. Ask him how much it hurt. Find out if he’s sorry.
What a farce.
There are valid questions about how the scenario relates to Te’o’s football future. It takes a cringing amount of naivete to be victimized by this prank, and every NFL team must pause to wonder if he can handle the financial windfall and high-profile status that comes with being a first-round pick.
There’s also the question of just why — after a season in which he was clearly the country’s best linebacker — he played so poorly against Alabama in the national title game.
“That’s all on me,” he said. “I played hard and so did my team, but Alabama had a great game plan.”
And finally, teams have to consider how Te’o will handle comments about the incident, not in regard to reporters, but teammates, opponents and fans. Will it hinder him from having a leadership role?
But at no point will anyone look at the interview he did on Saturday for an indication of either what happened or what will happen. That Q&A exercise was done for us, and it’s up to us to determine both why that’s the case and whether it was worth it.
We didn’t learn anything new from Te’o. We just subjected him to the floodlights of media scrutiny to see how humiliated he was.