Lots of people are doing the obvious jokes, but Matt Bors is covering the real issue.
For those living under a rock, Notre Dame's premier player, linebacker Manti T'eo, was the subject this past season of several stories and interviews about a girlfriend who died of leukemia. Then, last week, the sports website Deadspin revealed that his "girlfriend" was a fictional on-line character and it looked like T'eo had been the victim of an elaborate prank.
Disclosure #1: I'm a Notre Dame alum. (I've said this before. No secret.)
Disclosure #2: I'm a very alienated Notre Dame alum. (I've also said this before. Also no secret.)
Excellent graduation rate notwithstanding, the football program is no longer the model it was 30 years ago, and it really doesn't matter whether that stems from the nearly simultaneous retirement of University President Father Theodore Hesburgh and arrival of Coach Lou Holtz, or is simply a matter of adjusting to the times.
What I do know is that it was no accident when the sports information department changed the pronunciation of (classmate) Joe Theismann's name from "theez-min" to "thighs-man" in order to rhyme with "Heisman," or when they made the campus available to the production company of the self-promoting, hugely fictionalized story of "Rudy."
I believe that was the first time they'd allowed Hollywood on campus since "Knute Rockne, All-American," which also was not a documentary -- even Irish diehards admit that the famous "win one for the Gipper" speech was something Rockne delivered at more than one half-time, and was based on a scene he most likely fabricated in the first place.
But, the school does object when they feel a film hasn't met the proper level of truthiness and is not above attempting to quash that which they suspect has "knowingly and illegally misappropriated, diluted and commercially exploited for their private profit the names, symbols, football team, prestige, high reputation and goodwill" of the university.
Which brings us back to Matt's cartoon.
Here's how I see the situation:
Manti T'eo strikes up an online relationship that turns out to be phony, and, as part of the prank, this fictional girl dies of leukemia. There are enough of these sorts of stories going around that MTV has based a reality show, "Catfish," on the phenomenon.
It is not a particularly compelling TV show. They find somebody who is in love with an unseen, on-line suitor, they investigate and the bogus lover's story quickly falls apart, they arrange a meeting and the two people kind of stand there awkwardly. After you've seen two episodes, you should pretty much know what the wet paint is going to look like after it dries.
But it seems that Notre Dame's sports information machine got hold of this story and saw an emotional hook. So they fed the story to the press, which promptly put it out on the air.
There is a reason why, in most newsrooms, sports is referred to as "the toy department."
It's not that they should have thought the story was a hoax. But wouldn't somebody want to know a little more about this poor deceased Stanford student?
Despite the way it's spelled, "jock-sniffing" is not on the same page of the dictionary as "journalism."
If nothing else (and we're not just setting the bar low here, but laying it in a shallow trench), wouldn't you want to know if her friends in Palo Alto were going to root for Notre Dame in the Big Game?
Consider now the position of Manti T'eo. Unlike the people on "Catfish," who volunteer to look like gullible, socially-maladept fools in return for the chance to be on television, he's already on television.
But now his story has gone from being his own deal to something that his non-paying employer, the university, wants to feature.
Not only has he been a team-player all his life, but they are working to make him a full-fledged ESPN star, which will enhance his visibility not just to the public at large but to the various brain-trusts in the NFL who decide which college stars will get the enormous contracts.
So he plays it up a bit, and his family plays it up, and his teammates and his classmates kind of sense that there's something bogus about it, but he's a good guy and what the hell. Let him get a better shot at grabbing the brass ring.
And then it all falls apart and here we are.
The sports information department is scrambling for a cover story, his family is tryng to say whatever it is they think they should probably say, and it's his ass hanging out there, twisting in the wind.
When a kid is in free-fall, I'm not gonna criticize him for not sticking the landing.
Meanwhile, as Matt points out, nobody over in the toy department was interested in a story about a young female student who killed herself in the (apparent) wake of a sexual assault by a football player, one of two such incidents in which the women were reportedly intimidated into silence by their assailants' friends.
How could you possibly report such a story? Can't be done! The sports information department did not issue a press release or arrange to make anyone available for a sound bite on the practice field!
During the OJ trial, there were sports departments that objected to the story being taken away from them, but there were reasons for that:
1. Besides being a (retired) football player, Simpson was also a movie star, an advertising icon and a frequent talk show guest.
2. As one editor explained, "If Julia Child murdered someone, we would not run the story in the food section."
3. The toy department would have screwed it up.
Proof of which is their unwillingness, disinterest or inability to find out what happened to those young women.
For anyone contemplating a career in journalism, here's a pretty good rule: Don't expect public relations people to volunteer the bad news, and don't blame them for lying to you.
That's their job.