Te’o, Thamel and Deadspin: How the Web Outreported the Traditional Media

With the unraveling of one of the strangest sports stories of recent memory still leaving much to be explained, in the wake of Deadspin breaking the story that Notre Dame Fighting Irish All-American linebacker Manti Te’o’s inspirational girlfriend was, in fact, fake, it strikes a few questions on how something like this could go on for so long.

The circus surrounding this issue started just yesterday when Deadspin, an online sports blog that is part of the Gawker Media family, revealed that Te’o’s girlfriend, who passed away of leukemia just six hours after his grandmother had also passed away, has no record of ever existing. Despite being a graduate of Stanford, having been in a serious car accident that hospitalized her, and having been admitted to a (unnamed) California hospital for months for leukemia treatment, and ultimately passing away, Deadspin journalists’ Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey found no paper trail for Lennay Kekua having done any of these things. Or even being an actual person.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons.

Photo by Flickr user JamesChicago. Published under Creative Commons license.

While there has certainly been swirling tidbits of gossip and speculation as to why such a hoax was pulled off, let’s leave that alone and look at how such a story proliferated through the mainstream media for so long.

Remember, this wasn’t just some hoax that didn’t carry any weight outside of the Notre Dame community. No, the death of Kekua garnered national media attention, especially after Te’o spoke of her making him promise to continue playing no matter what happened to her. That same narrative of Te’o overcoming great amounts of grief (some of it real, as a result of his grandmother’s passing, keep in mind) followed him throughout the entire season, on his way to seven major collegiate football awards, and a Heisman nomination. There is no denying Te’o was a skilled player, yet you must still question whether that emotional aspect played into the minds of voters.

So, again, how did such a story receive so much coverage without this information of Kekua’s non-existence coming to light earlier? There are a few significant problems in the reporting of the story that can be looked at here.

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The 100-Song Road Trip

Back in October, one of my good friends and I came up with a half-baked drunk idea that the two of us were going to put together a playlist of 100 songs, 50 a piece, decide in a direction, and just drive. Once that hundredth song ended, we would find a place to stay, park the Jeep, and go get drunk. Then we’d spend the next day just checking out the city or town we were in, and depending on the level of excitement in terms of nightlife, we’d either stay for another night of shenanigans or just call it a night.

Well, last weekend the plan went into action, after a couple of weeks of arguing over songs and which direction we would take.

Coming up with music was both easy and hard. We’re both big fans of classic rock through to more 80’s prog-rock type music up into nostalgic “90s rock” (for lack of a better term). We both hate country, so that was easy. In terms of more modern bands, we ran into some issues. I, being a fan of some hip-hop, was quickly shut down when I tried to throw some J. Cole, Drake & Kanye West into the mix. He, being a fan of stuff like Maroon 5 and Cee-Lo, had some songs of his own shut down. Eventually, we found the newer bands we liked, and we were set to roll.

A bicycle sits in a tree at Notre Dame - Kyle W. Brown

But, we still needed a direction. At first we thought about heading east, keeping it in Canada. I realized that we were going to end up way too close to my hometown for it to have any sort of adventure to it, so I put the kibosh on that. He wanted to go through Buffalo, try to make it somewhere on the east coast. I suggested we make course for the midwest, the heartland of America, if you will. So, we consulted, and alas, the midwest won. Off we were, with the goal of making it to Chitown.

The ceiling of the Student Center at Notre Dame - Kyle W. Brown

On the drive we ran into some random fellow outside a gas station peddling contraband cigarettes, got caught in traffic in Detroit and were fearful for our lives (it wasn’t even all that bad), went from one timezone into another, then back into the first one five minutes later, and saw the beautiful town of Paw Paw.

We never quite made it to Chitown…but we were close! (I think?) We ended up pulling into South Bend, Indiana, home of the University of Notre Dame and…uh, Notre Dame football and…Notre Dame students! We were able to find a nice Scottish pub to drink the night away, and then spent the next day just walking around the monstrous (to a guy coming from Laurier, anyway) campus.

In our brilliance, we went on the weekend of American Thanksgiving, and as such, most of the students were actually at home, and therefore the massive frat and sorority parties we geared ourselves up for were simply not happening. So, we called it a good trip and headed home.

The Engineering Honor Society symbol - Kyle W. Brown

On our way back we did stop at an Applebees in Jackson, Michigan, though, and had a really bitchy waitress and some stomach-upsetting food. So, maybe that was karma that we never should have left and the greatest night ever was waiting for us back in South Bend…probably not, though.

You can find the playlist after the jump.

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