Lesson From Manti Te’o Situation: You Can’t Trust the Feel Good Story.

If there is one thing that I can say I am particularly happy with myself about in my career as a sports journalist, it’s that I know my place.  I’m not a guy whose going to write analysis on the BCS Championship or Super Bowl and expect anyone to really care about what I have to say.  Most subjects in the world of sports I think actually fall into that category.  There are very few things in my professional life that I have focused on and claimed to be any sort of expert on and most of those revolve around things associated with the NAIA.

So I’m not going to claim to have any sort of new information or mesmerizing opinion on Mantai Te’o.  I’m not the sort of person that really has anything to say different than that of the experts whose stuff I’ve read and said, “Yeah! What he said!”

I will however claim that I am an expert on the subject of feel good stories.  For the last 10 years I have scoured the earth to find interesting stories in small college athletics that people outside of the school or person involved might have a fleeting interest in or at least read and go “oh hey, that’s a cool little story.”

The Te’o story got all of us and I mean EVERYBODY.  There wasn’t one person who questioned the integrity of the story he told, looked at sources or even made a phone call until Deadspin unveiled their report. I tweeted the story myself and shared the same guttural response as the rest of the country.

How can we ever look at a feel good story the same again?

This isn’t just on Te’o and those who perpetrated the hoax (and I have to believe Te’o knew) but this is also on those that for years have sensationalized stories that aren’t news to gain readers, viewers or followers.

By no means am I slamming those journalists who have done that or be asked to give a story a little more juice. After all, journalism is the art of telling a story to engage your audience. But I have to think that the American sports audience is going to be a little more leery of the next tearjerker they read online or see on E60.

How many other stories out there have been hoaxes or embellished a little bit here and there by the participants to gain national traction? Will we as journalists take a more cynical look at these stories in the future to ensure their accuracy?

My guess is yes …for a little while … until someone needs to put on a little spin to sexy things up.

I get enraged at stories like this because I’ve seen so many at the NAIA, DII and DIII level go unnoticed through the years.  Look at the play this story received when we could’ve been telling someone else’s story that deserved to have their story heard.

The stories of Te’o make the country more cynical toward real feel good stories and put doubt into our minds.  Is this guy really telling the truth? What’s the other side of the story? In five months will this still be true?

There is a side of me that wishes Deadspin would have held this, kept it from us or even extorted Te’o out of his signing bonus to prevent it from coming out (a very small side, mind you). There are people whose stories should be on the front page of USA Today or shown in a loop on Sportscenter.  The country will never fully trust the feel good story again.  There is always going to be doubt or skepticism and we will have the Mantai Te’o story to blame for the foreseeable future.

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