National Columnist

Te'o prank isn't funny, and it's time to stop the public humiliation

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This Manti Te'o story isn't funny. It was never funny, even as it inspired jokes and photos, but it has become the opposite of funny, something that should be discussed in funereal tones, if at all. In fact, that's where I am on this Te'o story today:

Wishing we'd stop talking about it.

Irony, I know. Look at this hypocrite, wishing we'd stop talking about this inferno as he throws another 800 words onto the fire.

I know. Believe me, I know. But to get there from here -- to get to a point where we leave Manti Te'o alone, after spending the past week voraciously consuming and then discussing every single advancement of this bizarre story -- we're going to have to put it into the right category. Right now, we're calling the story of his fake girlfriend a hoax. A fraud.

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Let's call it what it is: A humiliation.

A public, national humiliation of a nice young man who did nothing to deserve it.

More irony, I know. Maybe I'm the wrong person to write this today, seeing how I wrote this on Saturday, explaining just how much I didn't believe Manti Te'o's version as told to ESPN's Jeremy Schaap.

In fairness to me, or at least to that story on Saturday, Te'o has since admitted to ABC's Katie Couric that he lied about his online relationship with a person he believed to be Lennay Kekua. He says he knew it was a hoax in early December, before he went to awards ceremonies in Orlando and New York, where he talked about Kekua's death from leukemia as if it were fact, not fiction.

So Te'o lied. In his own words, he lied. When did the lies start, as my story from Saturday asked in the headline?

Don't know. Don't care as much, either.

This story is moving fast and gaining speed, and every new development makes Te'o look more gullible, more pathetic, and I don't say that to mock him. My hope -- and my belief -- is that his family is protecting him from the media crush, making sure he's not reading the avalanche of cruelty being written about him. That includes this story. I truly believe, and hope, Te'o isn't reading this. Because I'm not writing this for him.

I'm writing it for you.

I'm writing it for me, too. This is a lesson I need driven home for my own benefit. The eureka moment I had minutes ago isn't enough. Those moments come and go. Writing this makes it permanent for me, and you. Google won't forget this story. People will search for Manti Te'o catfishing stories for a long time, and this one will pop up among the millions of results. If that's how you found yourself here, welcome. Thank you for reading.

Now, please stop laughing at Manti Te'o.

No more jokes. No more photos of empty swimsuits with the caption, "Lennay Kekua in a bikini." No more references to Te'o as a synonym for gullibility, like the tweet I saw the other day that asked, "Did you know Te'o isn't in the dictionary?"

Funny in concept, but not in reality. Because in reality, unless you believe he was behind this hoax from the start -- which seems like the most unrealistic scenario possible -- Manti Te'o has been humiliated. You've been there, in a much smaller way. You've tripped and fallen as a crowd giggles. You've dropped your plate at a restaurant. Your voice has cracked in public. You got home and realized your zipper was down, or your jeans were ripped in the wrong spot. Something. Anything. We've all been there, humiliated, a few seconds of despondent self-centeredness when it seems like the world is laughing at us.

It doesn't seem like the world is laughing at Manti Te'o.

The world is laughing at him.

And enough's enough. This has gone on for less than two weeks, but these must be dog years to Te'o, who hasn't helped himself by giving exclusive interviews to ESPN and then ABC. Te'o's handlers see this as giving his side of the story, but all they're doing is throwing more logs on this fire. People aren't looking for explanations; they've already decided. Te'o needs to stop feeding this story the oxygen it needs to burn.

Every day, even without his help, it's something else. What caused my eureka moment? The something else that broke Thursday, when the New York Daily News reported that the voice on the other end of the phone, the person Te'o had spent hundreds of hours talking to, listening to, falling in love with, wasn't even a woman. It was Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old man said to be behind the hoax.

I'd call that humiliating, but that word doesn't do this story justice. Having your phone ring in the movie theater is humiliating. Trying to lift more weight than you can handle, and having to ask strangers to lift the bar off your chest, is humiliating.

What Manti Te'o has been through isn't humiliating.

It's devastating.

Do me a favor and remember that. I'll do the same.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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