On Wednesday, the Web site
established Te’o’s famous dead-girlfriend story as a longtime
hoax perpetrated by a Te’o acquaintance, possibly
cooperation. But Notre Dame’s athletic director, in a tearful prime-time news conference
, said his player was the hoax’s victim. And Te’o himself, in a statement, said the hoax was “someone’s sick joke
. . . painful and humiliating
The revelations and contradictions were more bizarre than anything that came from Armstrong’s sit-down confession with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday night.
Of course, everything the disgraced cyclist told Oprah was news only to her. “It’s just this mythic, perfect story. And it wasn’t true,” Armstrong said. It was “one big lie” created because he had “this ruthless desire to win.” No surprises there. We knew the lies. We knew that the bully always had one foot on a bike pedal and the other on someone’s throat. We knew about all the doping and drugs and spy-novel machinations necessary to win the Tour de France seven times.
Still, for a long time, we had bought in. We love warm-and-fuzzy sports narratives. Midway through the college football season, Sports Illustrated ran with Te’o’s story, larded with poignant memories of the girlfriend who had been in a car wreck and while hospitalized was diagnosed with leukemia and died hours after his beloved grandma passed, after which the grieving-but-undaunted Te’o made a dozen tackles against Michigan State.
This is how our heroes are molded from ordinary clay. Pete Rose came with his sandlot enthusiasm, Charlie Hustle sliding head-first into our hearts. Tiger Woods, right before our eyes, grew up to be the rarest of athletes, the prodigy who fully realizes his promise. And what fun we had in that summer of the long ball, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, laughing around the basepaths, reduced Babe Ruth to an also-ran.
Then came a raw-boned Texan, an angry child of a broken home, a cancer survivor, usually seen on some high-number cable channel as a yellow-jerseyed blur on the French countryside.
Who’d have thought we’d fall for a Spandexed dude on a bike?
But that’s the way it happens when the guy comes with a good story.
Armstrong’s story couldn’t be believed, except we wanted to believe it. He had been a good cyclist but nothing special. That changed with the cancer. He survived testicular cancer that spread through his torso to his brain. Afterward, he became a great athlete. It was a story too good to be true — except we wanted it to be true.