Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Observation No. 1: Just how bizarre is this Manti Te’o hoax? Or is it an intrusion? Either way, thanks to the Notre Dame All-America linebacker and his personal life, “fiscal cliff” and “pension reform” have all but temporarily disappeared from the media.
Has Te’o become major-college athletics’ viral Kim Kardashian Bombshell of the Week? How soon will author Clifford Irving’s biography of Manti Te’o’s girlfriend be released? And who plays her in the movie version – the Invisible Woman? I don’t want to appear to be rude, but just who hasn’t been duped here? Te’o? Notre Dame? Some of our nation’s top sports journalists? Heisman Trophy voters? Or you and me, Joe Average media consumer and sports fan?
Opinion No. 1: Pranks are one thing. If these manipulation of facts – Lennay Kekua, her existence, her death – were created only to get Te’o on the cover of Sports Illustrated or gain more exposure on ESPN, that’s beyond despicable and unethical. How much “pub” is enough?
Before his fictional girlfriend was outed, Te’o was first-round NFL draft material. He played at Notre Dame, an iconic name synonymous with gridiron excellence for decades, on a 12-0 team in the regular season and in the BCS national championship game. Instead, this is the ultimate PR nightmare.
Opinion No. 2: The blame falls on many. One of the main culprits, I’ve defended all my career (I am a First Amendment guy): the media. In this down-sized world where management has stripped newsrooms bare, writers now share multiple beats and copy desks are shadows of their former selves. Buyouts and forced retirements have destroyed the institutional memory for most media outlets. Red flags on a story? Now the 21st century media does not have the time or staffing to check.
Columnist Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times said it best last week: “The story of Te’o’s girlfriend should be a wake-up call to all those who would intentionally or unwittingly perpetuate those myths. It should be an alarm in every newsroom, locker room and boardroom where sports stars are bought, shaped and sold.
“The mainstream media might also feel like a victim here, and that’s also a misguided view,” Plaschke continued. “The mainstream media could have ended this before it started. In all the stories written about Te’o and Kekua, ... where were the story-enhancing attempts to reach her parents or her friends? Even the most cynical reporters would not file a story without adding voices from Kekua’s camp confirming Te’o’s devotion. There was a time when editors would not have accepted such a one-sided story. In such basic reporting, the fraud eventually would have been uncovered.
“But in today’s 24-hour news cycle, with decreased staffing and constant deadline pressure, there is little time and space and manpower for such research. The national media had little time but to glance at the definitive first stories from Sports Illustrated or the South Bend Tribune and run with them.
“When reporters wondered about Kekua’s family members, Te’o asked them to respect the family’s privacy. Everyone complied. Who was going to betray a kid in pain? In doing Te’o’s bidding, everyone failed to do their jobs, from the folks under the golden dome to the ones under the masthead,” Plaschke summarized. All valid points.
Opinion No. 3: Don’t even bring up Lance Armstrong. Why is American culture fascinated by all these liars?
Observation No. 2: The truth sometimes hurts. The “HuskieWire” section on the DeKalb Daily Chronicle website usually features an interesting interactive “Reader Poll,” and this week’s (“Which NIU home football game are you most excited about for 2013?”) elicited a few chuckles. The responses are the five Huskie Stadium games this fall – Eastern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Akron and Western Michigan. Yawn. I suggested to sports editor Ross Jacobson a sixth: none of the above.
Ever since 2003, home scheduling for NIU has been difficult. I understand. Think Maryland or Iowa State ever want to come back? No one expects Notre Dame or Alabama or Ohio State in Huskie Stadium anytime soon. But there must be something in between that level and, no offense, FCS in-state rival Eastern Illinois. If the NIU powers-at-be want to improve season ticket sales, home attendance and the program’s national perception, then please address this.
Nebraska at Soldier Field is fine for our showcase games in Chicago. Let’s give our students, student-athletes, faculty and staff, plus our local community, some Huskie Stadium opportunities for success.
If Toledo can convince some big names to play in the Glass Bowl (Boise State in 2011, Arizona in 2010, Colorado in 2009, Fresno State in 2008, Purdue and Iowa State in 2007, Kansas in 2006, Pitt in 2003, UNLV in 2002, Minnesota in 2001), why can’t NIU?
Observation No. 3: My response to the aforementioned poll: Western Michigan. To be quite honest, it will be bittersweet to see P. J. Fleck wearing the Broncos’ colors on the Huskie Stadium sideline next fall.
During his playing days here, the thought actually ran through my head that Fleck someday could return to his alma mater as head coach and be the first NIU grad in that position since Hall of Famer Howard Fletcher (1956-68).
With all due respect, I don’t know what transpired in Fleck’s 24-hour tenure as NIU offensive coordinator under Dave Doeren. It is a regrettable situation for sure, but I thought Doeren’s official quote that P.J. did not feel “ready” for such a position didn’t jive with reality. The situation could have been handled with a bit more diplomacy. You don’t throw popular and prominent Huskie alums under the bus. A year later, Doeren coaches at North Carolina State and Fleck is the youngest FBS head coach in America at WMU.
From my perspective, Fleck earning the Western Michigan job is amazing. For years, the Broncos owned the Huskies in football. Between 1950 and 1982, WMU won 14 of the two school’s initial 15 meetings on the gridiron. Why hire somebody you usually beat? It’s a tribute to the turnaround Joe Novak era and those players (including No. 82) who gave NIU legitimacy in the eyes of Bronco athletic director Kathy Beauregard. Kudos to all who helped Fleck – Cary Groth, Jim Phillips, Novak and Jerry Kill.
Random notes: Ex-NIU tailback Garrett Wolfe returned to campus this semester to work on a master's degree in sports management. ... NIU Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Jane Albright is scheduled to bring her Nevada squad into the Convocation Center in 2013-14. ... The dates for the upcoming Huskie Alumni Days in women's basketball (Jan. 26) and men's basketball (Feb. 23) have been announced.
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.