INDIANAPOLIS -- On several occasions, during one of the most skillfully handled pieces of damage control in sports history, Manti Te'o's catfishing dalliance into make believe was called The Incident. Or The Situation. Or That Thing.
No one has a truly good name for it and neither did Te'o as he met with hundreds of media, stripped himself naked for the cameras and probing eyes and, though well coached, presented a sincere explanation and presentation. In the end, Te'o charmed the whole damn room.
This is what some people call winning the press conference.
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The Incident. The Situation. That Thing ... it's all gone. It doesn't matter anymore. Te'o handled it with such class, such openness; there was a moment when I felt sorry for him. Sure, that's not logical, but when dumbasses are asking questions like are you dating someone real, and Te'o handles the dumbass query by not punching said dumbass in the face, you are a winner.
Te'o fell prey to a hoax, perhaps exploited said hoax, and for that he deserves his public lashing. But as his embarrassment has gone viral, the reaction has gone over the top. He got suckered and then perhaps lied to cover it up. Crack all the jokes you want but it's time to move on.
He took 36 questions in almost 15 minutes. Twenty were about the catfishing. He stood there serious, nonplussed and basically answered everything he was asked. He practically avoided nothing.
Te'o was well coached, to be sure. Whoever prepped him deserves a nice stipend and Hawaiian vacation. Make no mistake, however, there was also an element of great sincerity in how he handled himself. There was almost a fearlessness in him. Te'o was going to put it all on the table (or most of it) and just didn't seem to care.
Most players in this situation would almost say nothing. They'd be defensive. Te'o was none of that.
When asked why he was duped, Te'o said, "I cared for somebody." Looking around the room, after he said that, I saw some hardcore and cynical reporting friends nod their head. As in: judgmental time is over. He won us over.
Te'o isn't just winning over some media. Executives on several different teams -- who have talked to Te'o both formally and informally -- said Te'o has been exemplary in interviews. One described him as contrite and forthcoming and explained that Te'o was asked extensively about the hoax. The executive said that after speaking with Te'o, he was convinced Te'o's draft status would be unaffected by the incident.
Said the executive: "We ended up talking mostly about football. I came to really like him and I wasn't sure going into the process I would."
Whatever Te'o is doing, whatever coaching he received in preparation for the combine, seems to be working extremely well. That doesn't mean he can play well in the NFL and it doesn't explain how he was undressed by Alabama runners. It just means his combine experience, in terms of the interviews, one of the toughest parts of the process, has gone swimmingly. Several team sources insisted the team that seems most interested in Te'o is the Houston Texans. Te'o has 20 total interviews scheduled.
Te'o was asked if he understood why teams were asking him about the hoax. "They want to be able to trust their player," he said.
Another excellent answer. Most athletes, in the same situation, and asked the same question, would say: You have to ask those teams. Te'o acknowledging there is a trust deficit was smart. Again, well coached, but the answer made an impact.
There is great cynicism with Te'o and that cynicism is understandable. He was suckered, and then may have suckered a gullible public, looking for a hero in a messy sports universe of PEDs, NCAA hypocrisy and woman beaters.
Te'o isn't Lance Armstrong, an unapologetic cad who duped millions for many years, while simultaneously destroying the lives of anyone who doubted him. There is sincerity with what Te'o says. There is genuine sorrow.
Before leaving the podium, Te'o thanked everyone. It was the least sincere part of his press conference but didn't override the main message.
It's time for all of us to move on.