Josh Shaw and former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o must be blood brothers from another mother. Or maybe their idea of making waves in college football is to venture into the world of fantasy, the absurd, unfathomable, ingenuous and desperate.
Certain people think they are smarter than the machine. Thinking they can stop a busted levy from flooding their entire situation. That’s never the case. Both of these guys learned the hard way. Sure, sometimes the truth hurts and it may make you temporarily look like a jerk, but everyone makes mistakes. Just don’t compound one jacked up situation with another lie and another jacked up situation, until everything comes tumbling down on your head and people look at you sideways for the rest of your life.
Te’o went from dope linebacker to world-renown sucker and tall-tale fabricator/enabler, when his bizarre catfish story popped off in 2012 in the midst of a potential Heisman run.
As the story goes, Manti played the season under a terrible burden and with a broken heart. A Mormon linebacker with impeccable morals, who led his legendary college Catholic school's football program back to top of the food chain, was receiving extra attention because of his exceptional performance in the face of personal tragedies that would break most men.
In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te'o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua (who we later find out didn’t even exist !).
Kekua, 22 years old, had supposedly been in a serious car accident in California, and then was diagnosed with leukemia. Sports Illustrated and other reputable publications took the story and ran with it, interviewing people who were all too willing to help the story along with whatever details they saw fit to add.
SI 's Pete Thamel described how Te'o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. "Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice," Thamel wrote.
Te’o and his dad became more forthcoming with details and filling in the holes as the bright lights of Hollywood began to shine on him as this hero.
Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te'o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, recording 12 tackles. Te'o would appear on ESPN's College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing where they first exchanged digits—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto.
Most media outlets accepted Manti’s story and all of the twists and turns that seemed to emerge as people dug deeper. Deadspin was the first publication to report that Kekua didn’t exist, but the situation was sort of put to bed without any concrete answers. He wanted us to believe he was duped.
We may never know the real story, but Te’o and his family obviously lied about some things to save his reputation, boost his Heisman chances and support the emerging fairy tale of Te'o battling through devastating tragedy to lead Notre Dame to a national title and become the first linebacker and second defensive player since (Charles Woodson 1997) to win a Heisman trophy.
At the very least, Te’o was the victim of an elaborate Catfish scheme and once he figured it out , he just went along with the embellishment of the story to save face and ride the wave that had grown beyond his control. At the time, it probably seemed like the right option. Te'o blew up. He did a TV interview with Katie Couric, and his media session at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis drew the largest crowd of media in combine history as he handled questions about his personal life and his NFL prospects.
It didn’t quite work out as Te’o planned. He made the NFL as the 38th overall pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2013, but he didn't win the Heisman and Notre Dame got walloped in the National C'hip by Alabama 42-14, and that bizarre story will forever follow him around like a shadow in the shape of a question mark.
Shaw is in the same boat after fabricating an elaborate story about jumping from a balcony to save his drowning nephew. Shaw confessed Wednesday that he lied to school officials, retracting his story about a rescue bid.
He is officially 2014-15’s Manti Te’o. While Shaw’s fib didn’t last but a few days before he had to come clean, Te’o never actually admitted to making anything up and in the midst of a possible undefeated season Notre Dame fans and college football’s executive money-makers were willing to run with the uncertainty. When the bottom fell out, they were willing to let the situation fade to black.
Shaw is a fifth-year senior, who was a captain and a leader on the Trojans like Te’o was on the Fighting Irish. Shaw’s mishap couldn’t have come at a worse time as he would have been a key defensive starter for the 15th-ranked Trojans, who begin their first season under Sarkisian at the Coliseum on Saturday against Fresno State.
Instead of bursting out of that tunnel, Shaw is laid up with bum ankles and his college football career could be a wrap. What was this dude thinking? Everybody knows that once you need more than yourself to conceal a lie, it eventually becomes public information.
He sullied a reputation that was spotless. He was considered an honest, reliable, leader by his teammates and coaches. It’s easy to ask why nobody looked deeper into the story, but nobody had a reason to question thee guy's motives. In Shaw’s case, his teammates and coaches say they had no reason to doubt the cornerback when he explained his two sprained ankles with the now infamous and insane story about saving his nephew from drowning.
USC is like WTF? NFL execs are left scratching their heads and reconsidering Shaw as someone they would want as a member of their franchise.
Shaw makes himself look foul in this situation and like Te’o he seemed to drag his family into the mess, as Asia, the mother of the seven-year old nephew, initially corroborated her brother’s Spiderman scenario. As various reports flooded in questioning the validity of the story, she wisely made herself unavailable for further comment.
While the real story is still being flushed out (Shaw has admitted to lying but he hasn’t told us the real deal yet) the school has suspended the talented cornerback from all team activities and acknowledged his heroic tale was ''a complete fabrication.''
This is so confusing because Shaw seems to have his stuff together. He took a recent humanitarian trip to Haiti and completed an internship at a commercial real estate company in the offseason.
He was even selected to speak last May at the school's student-athlete graduation ceremony. Shaw issued a short statement through criminal defense attorney Donald Etra on Wednesday after being suspended:
''On Saturday, August 23, 2014, I injured myself in a fall,'' Shaw said. ''I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong not to tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part. My USC coaches, the USC athletic department and especially Coach Sarkisian have all been supportive of me during my college career and for that, I am very grateful.''
His teammates are befuddled. The HC is obviously in shock and the USC athletic department and a ton of overzealous media outlets are embarrassed behind Shaw’s actions. Whatever he did that night, I hope it was worth his future, because he damaged way more than two ankles by taking the low road and thinking that in this age of social media and cameras he could pull a fast one on the hearts of everyone who trusts him.