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Goodman: Why Manti Te’o’s NFL future is safe

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Goodman: Why Manti Te’o’s NFL future is safe

Meredith Goodman, Columnist

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The story: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had a nearly two-year relationship with a Stanford student, 22-year-old Lennay Kekua, who was involved in a serious car accident and diagnosed with leukemia. On Sept. 12, both Kekua and Te’o’s grandmother passed away, leaving him with immense grief and an inspiring narrative for his prospective Heisman season.

The twist: According to an article published Jan. 16 on Deadspin, there is no evidence Kekua ever existed.

In fact, there are several conflicting records of their relationship — including the puzzling fact that the couple never video chatted or visited each other in-person.

Even more concerning, there is evidence Te’o — whose official statement says he was the victim of an extended prank — knew about the hoax. A relationship starting on Twitter seems quite dubious, and if Kekua had graduated in 2012, wouldn’t Te’o leave the beginning of spring training to see her graduate? If Te’o did know about the hoax and played along, this would set up a problem with trust between Te’o’s fellow players and the media. Trust is the foundation of any strong sports team, and Te’o would have serious issues working with a team and being trusted if he indeed played along with the hoax.

Fortunately for Te’o, engaging in a fake relationship is not a crime. But his lapse of judgment throughout his whole “relationship” with Kekua could be concerning to NFL coaches and owners.

An immediate effect of the hoax revelation is Te’o’s decision not to participate in the Senior Bowl, a pre-draft showcase of the country’s top college football seniors. But he still has an impressive list of highlights from his four years at Notre Dame, which led him to finish second in this year’s Heisman voting and be named one of the best inside linebackers in the draft by Bleacher Report. Even with his personal drama, Te’o’s athletic career leaves him looking pretty good.

More important than his athletic prowess is his personal history. If NFL team executives are looking for a player with solid character, at least historically, perhaps they should focus on Te’o’s rank as an Eagle Scout, his time spent volunteering for Special Olympics and the Head Start preschool program in high school and his commitment to aiding the South Bend Center for the Homeless.

NFL players need commitment to succeed in the competitive world of pro football. Te’o showed commitment to his academics by earning a 3.5 GPA in high school and graduating early from Notre Dame with a GPA over 3.2. With these impressive academic statistics from an elite prep school and a leading private university, he could possibly outscore his draft-mates in the Wonderlic test, a cognitive ability exam used to scout potential NFL players for the draft.

Compared to some of his potential future field-mates, Te’o has a spotless record, especially from a legal standpoint. Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson was arrested twice during his college career and was drafted fourth overall in 2005. When Jabaal Sheard, a current Cleveland Browns defensive end, was a player at the University of Pittsburgh, he was arrested for disorderly conduct because he threw a man through a glass door after beating him. San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge involving his former girlfriend when he was a sophomore at Oregon.

These are some of the many examples of current NFL players who recovered in time for the NFL draft after the missteps they committed in college. Unfortunately, there is no precedent for a star college football player who was caught in a hoax involving a fake dead girlfriend. But there are worse things Te’o could have done than play along, and, at least to me, the Lennay Kekua hoax should not forever stain Te’o character.

Eventually, I predict that the scandal will fade away when another dramatic story fueled by social media rises to prominence (Justin Bieber, I’m looking at you). Hopefully by draft time in late April, NFL team executives will focus on Te’o’s superior athletic ability, commitment and character and give him a chance to be successful in the NFL.

Meredith Goodman is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at meredithgoodman2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to forum@dailynorthwestern.com.

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