By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge…” 2 Peter 1:5
I get it. It’s not like I expect to be mollycoddled by an institution when it comes to my intelligence. Years of fanhood—particularly through the clandestine Lovie Smith Bears and the “I didn’t mean it, baby. Come back, and I promise I won’t do it again” Cubs—have jaded me beyond repair.
And I have long been able to fracture the in-game and the otherwise. Great players and coaches from real, flawed human beings. An athlete doing drugs doesn’t shock me. A coach abusing a spouse no longer disappoints. Should they be taken aback when an accountant commits assault or a schoolteacher (allegedly) disturbs the peace with a 3 a.m. solo vocal session (allegedly) because some stiff manager in the parking lot of the local taco joint doesn’t understand that being possessed by the spirit of Ronnie James Dio knows no closing time, Jeff, you narc (definitely).
I still root for the guys wearing my favorite laundry to do well no matter if they have a rap sheet or believe in a certain deity or vote for Lyndon LaRouche. If a guy needed to pass a polygraph in order for me to want him to score points, my life as a consumer of sports would be confined to high school fields (and I barely trust that the teens I deal with now aren’t plotting against me). But that doesn’t mean I welcome being treated like an idiot.
On Wednesday after Deadspin broke the story that ESPN decided not to break because that network chooses to be in bed with teams and athletes instead of just shooting the stag film that sports has become, the University of Notre Dame did a Benny Hill job of slapping together a hurried press conference to address the situation of a guy who is no longer a member of its football team or school. Athletic Director and always smooth operator Jack Swarbrick stood in front of reporters and cameras and microphones that led to people at home who were still trying to process the Manti Te’o news — news that was very unlike any of the sports negatives we had been subject to before — and bumbled and cried about how great Te’o is and threw support behind the former Fighting Irish linebacker who since the news of his nonexistent girlfriend came out has been conspicuously absent from facing the strange music. Again, let me note that Swarbrick, speaking on behalf of the football program, athletic department, and the university, vouched for Te’o.
That was probably a bad idea. For one, the story that Deadspin published did a pretty good job of providing evidence that Te’o, while possibly the victim of a hoax, had lied about said hoax in some capacity prior to Wednesday. Also, as we’ve seen over the past 48 hours, finding instances in the many interviews Te’o had done that contradict his story have not exactly been difficult to come by. But that’s Notre Dame trying to scoop water out of a submerged boat in order to… try to preserve a narrative? I’m not even sure.
The school didn’t need a press conference—especially one put together so hastily and poorly while major chunks of the story were still surfacing. All the school had to do was issue a simple statement that said that they are aware of the story, they like the rest of us do not have all the facts, and they wish the FORMER PLAYER AND FORMER STUDENT and anyone else affected by this all the best. But no; instead they treated everyone—Notre Dame fans in particular—like we are all stupid. There are many who deserve such treatment, but for a school that supposedly prides itself on two things—high academia and religious morals—it once again took the immoral route of insulting the intelligence of a segment of fans who aren’t dumb.
Perhaps by now you’ve seen some example of the fantastically lame and uncreative meme of “Te’oing.” Because remember how not funny or original Tebowing was? Good times. (Side note: sports scandals like these produce humor that is very polarizing in terms of the genuinely creative and the lazy, tired, and easy. The latter annoys the hell out of me because it ruins social media for the time being. Go tweet your bad jokes to Leno, please.) Oddly enough, though, the act of pretending to be intimate with an invisible person, playing off the strange situation involving Te’o, is not all that different with the way Notre Dame has treated its football fans in recent years. They’ve tricked otherwise smart people over and over again into thinking the Golden Dome loves and respects them, and other than in a capacity to spend money on merchandise, that doesn’t seem true.
The first such instance of this was the Lizzy Seeberg tragedy. A young woman killed herself after the inaction of school authorities who failed to step back from the BS aura of The Gipper and properly address the likelihood that a Fighting Irish football player fought his way into Seeberg’s body. And that player suffered no legal consequence. And that football player remained on the team. That player is a scumbag who I hope meets karma head on eventually, but I don’t care that he was in uniform for the 2013 National Championship game. Again, if you can’t bring yourself to root for bad people on your favorite sports teams, you’ll have a tough time finding a team to root for. In real life, I hate the alleged rapist, but sports are not real life and, thus, my indifference while a game clock is ticking. I wish with all my heart that Lizzy Seeberg and her family could have had better, but bad and indifferent people saw otherwise.
And while what happened to Seeberg and its aftermath is of the utmost importance, compounding all that is the university treating it as a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil situation and essentially then conveying the message that Irish fans should, too. Fans who put football above real life roll with that permission, defending a football program at all costs because their own lives are so sad that a rooting interest in sports is all that validates them. Meanwhile fans like me who were rightfully outraged by the handling of it all are left largely overshadowed and ignored.
One blemish on an otherwise storied football program, though. It can happen to any team. Letting one isolated horrific incident define a team would be wrong, right?
Then a member of the football program died at practice because of negligence. He died because football was more important than safety. Again I was left with my heart aching for the death of a young person that did not need to happen. And again I was treated like an idiot, with Swarbrick playing a meteorologist and Brian Kelly pretending he actually gave a crap.
And since both the Lizzy Seeberg and Declan Sullivan incidents, Notre Dame has done little to appease my intelligence. There has been no, “Okay, look we made some horrible mistakes that we are infinitely sorry for and will do everything we can to right both situations with the families of the parties involved.” Money has been quietly thrown at the wounds, but that can only soak up so much blood, and it certainly does nothing for me.
Two serious failures on multiple levels is a tough pill to swallow. Luckily there was the Te’o press conference to regain some credibility among critics of the school, including smart fans who were thinking, “Man, not again. Please do the right thing here.” The right thing was not what occurred during that press conference (again, one that wasn’t even necessary). Instead it was all kinds of bad. Again.
When will they apologize to the smart fans—hitching their wagons to a supposedly “smart school”—for getting them stereotyped, becoming fodder for the rabid haters of Notre Dame that existed before any of these fiascos? Or those who have long gravitated to rooting for a school that supposedly extols the virtues of Catholicism? Because putting money and public relations ahead of rape, safety, and death, ahead of virtue and intelligence, has never been preached by any great Catholic I’ve heard of.
It’s becoming a bad meme that won’t go away. Notre Dame tells me it’s about goodness and intelligence. But time and time again when I turn to them for both, it’s like neither ever existed there in the first place.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.