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College Football Insider

Manti Te'o hoax shouldn't dissuade off-field storytelling

The good-guy narrative took an open-field helmet to the head this week. Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o, both hoisted for their inspirational stories at different times, have become Twitter punchlines at the same time. At best, Te'o is naïve and probably oversold a few things during his girlfriend hoax exposed by Deadspin.

But my hope is these instances don't discourage us from telling stories of athletes' lives -- yes, in some cases, even feel-good stories. Not everything is a hoax, a scam, a lie. Rosters across the country have difference-makers and tales of goodness.

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In Te'o, it seems, we've just told the wrong one.

There are ground rules here, to be sure. I'm not talking about canned goodness or heroic depictions reduced to vanilla-flavored goo on paper. ('s Ty Duffy makes some good points on this issue). I'm talking about character studies, the reasons why people might give a homeless man $100 or dope up to win bicycle races.

Deadspin's reporting on Te'o is a sobering reminder that skepticism to every detail is necessary. Stories must be balanced and, most important, correct.

But skepticism can coexist with a core belief in people when warranted, as long as we understand those people are, like everyone else, inherently flawed.

Mistakes will be made. That doesn't mean certain triumphs should be overlooked.

Though it's not looking good, there's still a chance that Te'o's story of triumph over tragedy stems from a good place but got tangled in embellishments and embarrassment.

Many stories are tainted over time and deservedly so. Some are genuine -- maybe not most, but some.

I had the chance to tell a few human-interest stories this season: Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Oregon's Dion Jordan.

Do I know these individuals inside and out? No. Honestly, I didn't have three months dedicated to vetting their entire childhood. But based on what I know, I would consider them pretty good guys who overcame a lot. And there's nothing wrong with that.

The Te'o story made me think of Robert Hardy, Mosley's best friend who died from heart complications when Mosley was a middle-schooler. I saw the family-provided picture of Mosley touching Hardy's grave. Next time, I'll make sure to get the death certificate.

Look, college football is one of many sports loaded with problems and agendas and confusion. And though those stories are crucial, I didn't get into the business solely for the cold, calculated side. There's a place for storytelling in several different forms.

Maybe I'm as naïve as Te'o in that way.

Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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