INDIANAPOLIS—We might never know the truth about the hoax that turned Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o from an inspirational linebacker into the focus of a media circus that culminated here Saturday at the NFL scouting combine. But regardless of whether you believe Te’o was complicit in fabricating the identity of his girlfriend, there is no disputing how thoroughly he was humiliated by the entire episode. No one welcomes embarrassment, especially to the widespread, public extent Te’o experienced.
He might not have your sympathy, but he at least deserves credit for seeking life lessons from the ordeal. NFL teams should value that when evaluating him in the two months leading up to the draft.
“I’ve learned just to be honest in anything and everything you do, from the big things to the small things,” Te’o told the media horde Saturday afternoon. “Secondly, to keep your circle very small and to understand who’s really in your corner and who’s not. I think going off of the season my team and I had, there’s a lot of people in our corner. Then when Jan. 16 happened, there’s a lot of people in the other corner.
“I just learned to appreciate the people that I have that are with me and to just make sure you always try to turn a negative thing into a positive.”
Te’o conveyed a sense of awareness about the situation that leads me to believe it ultimately can be productive in his life.
He spoke about commitments to honesty and family. He was introspective about how people treat one another. He promoted forgiveness. He understood why the situation is a big deal as he starts his professional career.
All of those are elements of personal growth. At age 22 – and any age, really – that’s what life is about. We grow through experiences. Sometimes it results from mistakes. Other times the catalyst is success.
There isn’t media saturation for most of our personal journeys, of course, and that raises the stakes for someone like Te’o. He seems even more resolved because of how intense the scrutiny has been, which bodes well for the end result.
“When you’re walking through grocery stores and you’re kind of, like, giving people double-takes to see if they’re staring at you, it’s definitely embarrassing. I guess it’s part of the process. It’s part of the journey. You know it’s only going to make me stronger and it definitely has.”
Te’o has a full life ahead of him to turn those words into actions and apply the lessons learned. How successful he is doing that should, in the end, define him as a person; not the episode itself.
Judging from how composed, poised and insightful he was in answering questions here Saturday, he appears to at least be off to a fine start.