Saturday, January 19, 2013

Manti Te'o & Our Society: Life Lessons on what it means to be a Hero and Anti-Hero

I believe humanity needs heroes. We need men and women to serve as role models for their virtue, selflessness and reactions to setbacks. I also believe in the power of anti-heroes. I have learned as much from them as my heroes. How NOT to be is sometimes an easier thing for me to see. In 2012, we are all too aware that athletes serve as both.

Sports Illustrated ‘s cover story, “In My Tribe“ by Terry McDowell states “IT’S NOT ABOUT SCORES and stats, it’s about the stories. The players’ skill and athleticism can be mind-blowing, but without the backstories, there is no connection. The excitement comes from knowing enough about the athletes to care who makes the shot and who misses.” And for Notre Dame fans or “the Notre Dame family” as members refer to it, Manti Te’o was a living legend for what he did both on and off the field. 

A friend once said, I can’t read anything about him without being moved to tears. I was so glad to hear him say this; I felt the same way. But in the past week, that story has changed, hasn’t it? People who knew little to nothing about the man have very strong, passionate feelings about him and what has proven to be a hoax. The world divided into two camps—Manti: a na├»ve hero and Manti: the self-inflating anti-hero.

McDowell also states, “But if we are who we say we are, if we believe in courage and integrity and fair play, then we define ourselves in our sports.” And this claim speaks to what has upset me most about Deadspin’s revelation. It’s not Manti that I am worried about, it’s the society I live in. People are asking questions like “how was he stupid enough to get duped?” rather than “why did someone—and in this case, it was three people—think it funny, to mislead another human being?”   Rather than look at who Manti is and has always presented himself to be, people have made accusations of what they believe he did. Why he is weird? How he misled us.

The ratio of stories presenting his testimony, which was given to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in a two and a half hour to interview to those stories written by people not involved, is a gross injustice. His words filled in the blanks, admitted to mistakes, and clarified many questions. The lack of press and attention to his perspective has only raised more questions for me. Do we want a hero who cares too much? Or are we seeking one who is evil... or gullible?  

Manti knows who he is. If his faith is what he claims it to be, I know he is drawing from that reservoir today, tomorrow and in the months to come. But again, my bigger question is: Do we as a society know who we are? Do we know who we want to be?

I wanted to write about the reason my jaw first dropped when I visited Miami's Belen Jesuit high school.  I was hoping to share a story of what I have learned from those who are blind--including a junior who spoke to a group of teachers and me when we visited.  But the next posting will be about Manti as a hero and because he is human--our heroes always are--those parts of him that served as the anti-hero.  In a small way, I suppose I can tell that story because of that student at Belen.  The blind have taught me how to see in ways I never knew.... 

Photo Credits
Manti ESPN interview
Time to Rally

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