In my quieter moments, I sometimes wonder why I’m so cynical. Trust me, the thought always passes, but I have asked myself why I can’t get on board the way other people can.
Why couldn’t I, a cancer survivor, concentrate on all the good work Lance Armstrong was doing in the fight against the disease? (Because the money he raised was built on a steaming pile of lies and syringes.)
Why was I so quick to cast doubt on a 16-year-old swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal by swimming her final leg faster than the men’s champion did in the same event? (Because the sport’s dirty history demands doubt.)
Why couldn’t I have celebrated Tim Tebow as a good kid instead of dwelling on the fact he’s a below-average quarterback? (Because being a good quarterback, not a Tebowing proselytizer, is sort of the whole idea in the NFL.)
Why couldn’t I trust college-football coaches when so many fans think college football is just about the greatest thing there is? (Because most of the coaches turn out to be like the latest snake, new Eagles boss Chip Kelly, late of the University of Oregon.)
Why do I have to question everything? (You mean like I am right now?)
Then the Manti Te’o story comes along, and my faith in cynicism is renewed.
By now, you’ve likely heard the head-scratching news: Lennay Kekua, the girlfriend of Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker who died of leukemia in September — the woman who launched 1,000 heartfelt stories about the grieving star — never existed. The school and Te’o say he was the victim of a hoax.
It’s a bizarre tale that raises twice as many questions as it answers.
Why did Te’o refer to Kekua as his “girlfriend’’ if the two of them, as Notre Dame’s athletic director says, had never met?
Why did Te’o’s father say his son and Kekua occasionally met in Hawaii?
If Te’o were so devoted to Kekua, why didn’t he visit her in the hospital or go to her wake/funeral?
Why did Te’o continue to talk about her publicly after he became aware of the hoax?
A former teammate told ESPN, that Fighting Irish players knew the woman wasn’t Te’o’s girlfriend, thought Te’o had met her just once and believed that the linebacker played along with the story as it became bigger.
Here is what I have come to believe after 30 years of doing what I do: The first instinct, the instinct not to swallow what is being ladled out to you, is usually the right one. Especially at places such as Notre Dame, where the narrative is built on a warm cushion of mythology, never mind the dead football videographer or the girl who committed suicide after accusing a Notre Dame player of sexually assaulting her.
I don’t always feel good about the way I am, but I’m glad more often that not that I am skeptical and cynical. When you view people as human, you’re a lot less likely to be hoodwinked or disappointed.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have fallen for the Te’o story. If I had sat down with him and he had talked about his deceased girlfriend, I would have written that column without a second thought. And I can’t think of a reason I would have questioned his story.
I had the opportunity to write about Te’o’s last home game in November, but had an immediate aversion to it. There was something too much about it. Too many adoring fans. Too Hollywood an ending. Too Notre Dame. I wrote about the Irish’s road to the national title game instead.
Why the cynicism? Because I believe we’ve gone so far in building up athletes that they’re almost unrecognizable as human beings.
Have you ever met someone who is completely honest, loyal, nonjudgmental, understanding, sensitive, giving, patient, selfless and gracious? Neither have I. Even the people we most like, appreciate and look up to have their shortcomings. That’s because they’re human.
But then I hear Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick refer to Te’o as “the single most trusting human I’ve ever met.’’
Isn’t it funny that whenever a coach, GM or athletic director talks about someone as “the nicest” or “the smartest” or the something-est, it invariably is the best player on the team? It’s never the ball boy or the student manager or the third-string center. Why do we feel the need to heap superlatives on someone who, because of genetics, can jump higher or run faster than other people?
We really, really wanted to believe the story about Te’o’s girlfriend, didn’t we?
Better to approach sports with an arched eyebrow. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain.