Manti Te’o has been the beneficiary of the counsel of an agent and multiple high-priced attorneys and PR advisors. Whether it’s a case of “too many cooks,” or the following of a political playbook or people looking out for their own interest over his or maybe just a stubborn client, it really doesn’t matter because this legion of so-called experts is failing him.
The sole objective of this retinue should be to maximize Te’o’s position in the April NFL Draft and a career in pro football. To do that, they should be putting him in position to most powerfully and credibly tell his story, while he still stands a chance at succeeding in the court of public opinion. They should be helping him quickly move on to the point where he can start focusing on tackling people for a living. Instead, the outcome of all of that advice is continuing skepticism.
Notre Dame’s Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick teed up Te’o’s story for him on Wednesday night. All Te’o needed to do was fill in the holes that Swarbrick couldn’t answer. But, he waited more than 48 hours, to have his restricted off-camera interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap. During that time, friends, relatives, columnists and everyone else who could garner and audience spoke instead of Te’o and likely didn’t tell the story that way he would have. Now, there’s word he’ll appear on TV with his parents on Katie Couric’s daytime show. Immediately, journalists took to Twitter to accuse him of PR cowardice for only doing an off-camera interview and one with a perceived “lightweight” in the week after the hoax story broke online. Also, the fact that Couric is represented by the same agency of Te’o fuels additional doubt about whether he’ll have to really answer the toughest questions.
In order to have any chance of convincing the public that he was played along with them, the public needs to see him answer questions and gauge his answers and body language without the filter of a reporter (even a proven one like Jeremy Schaap). In order for the public to have confidence in the answers to the questions in a story as bizarre as this one, the questions the public wants answered need to be answered (perception is that Couric can’t or won’t do that).
After four years of playing at Notre Dame, Manti Te’o has been interviewed by media in every possible way. He has been at the podium for press conferences and had cameras in his face in locker rooms after games. He spoke about life and death in well-lit TV interviews and across the table from magazine reporters. This isn’t like a media spectacle coming out of nowhere. If anyone was prepared for a “tell all” one-on-one TV interview or a press conference like Swarbrick’s, it would have been Te’o.
But instead of doing what would have been best for him from a PR and a business perspective, the game continues. He won’t be on TV until Thursday, 8 days after the story broke. In the meantime, journalists will be interviewing anyone connected to Te’o or the alleged hoax perpetrators. He won’t speak for himself, so others will gladly speak for him.