It happens in professional sports on a seemingly weekly basis, and chances are it has aroused anger, head-shaking and more than a few chuckles from you on more than one occasion.
In the days leading up to a huge game, a star athlete can’t help himself and lets loose a Twitter barrage claiming his team is a virtual lock to win said game. And the same thing almost always happens: The ill-advised comment becomes bulletin-board material for the opposing team and players, further fueling their motivation to prove the mouthy athlete wrong.
Then the game comes, and either the athlete looks like a prophet in hindsight or is forced to field a 1000 questions afterwards that usually start or end with “do you regret making that comment?”
The social media epidemic has become so prevalent in recent years, that many a prep sports coach incorporates a “don’t say anything stupid on Facebook or Twitter” message into their usual practice routines. Kids will be kids, after all.
But over the past 48 hours, the darker side of what social media can bring about in an athlete’s life has become the talk of both sports and mainstream media.
Notre Dame linebacker, Heisman Trophy finalist and virtual lock for a NFL first-round draft pick, Manti Te’o, was the subject of one of the most heart-breaking stories of the 2012-13 college football season. It was a story involving Te’o and his girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who was diagnosed with Leukemia and had mere months to live. Te’o would stay up all night with Kekua (a student at Stanford University) on the phone while she lay in a California hospital, until she finally passed away in the fall of 2012. Her final words to Te’o were “I love you,” and throughout their love affair, Kekua asked Te’o to keep her memory alive on the football field should she not live to see the Notre Dame linebacker again.
The story endeared Te’o to millions of college football fans, and several stories appeared in the mainstream media declaring Te’o a modern-day gladiator with a heart of gold.
There was only one problem: Kekua never existed, and the lid was officially blown off this story on Wednesday courtesy of Deadspin.com. Te’o has claimed that he was the victim of “someone’s sick joke” and has expressed “embarrassment” regarding what he thought was an online and over-the-phone relationship with Kekua.
But a list of Twitter messages from Te’o, family members and even the Fighting Irish stretched a mile wide (all discussing Te’o meeting with Kekua on many occasions) and told a different story. Time will tell where this story goes from here, but suffice to say, it will be making quite a few people that were thoroughly invested in the Te’o-Kekua love story squirm in their seats.
For this generation of young athletes that have openly embraced social media, the Te’o scandal (which can now officially be called a “scandal”) is the ultimate cautionary tale.
Everything that you do on social media sites, from status updates to even deleted messages, can and will linger a lifetime. It can be light-hearted trash talking or something more personal; but regardless if you keep it posted or not, chances are someone will have seen it.
And unfortunately in this day and age, there exists a whole host of people that are waiting to exploit you for the exact type of thing that has sullied Te’o’s once-golden image seemingly overnight.
Be careful out there.