Considered to be a definite first-round draft choice, Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te'o's stock among National Football League scouts took a potentially serious hit Wednesday, when it was revealed that the recently reported death of his online girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was a hoax, according to Deadspin.com.
Te'o's role in the hoax has yet to be determined, however, suspicions of the rising star's possible involvement might dampen his prospects in the NFL draft if his possible character flaws overshadow his physical abilities.
"First of all, I’ve never heard of anything like this ever happening ," former Dallas Cowboys player personnel director Gil Brandt said in a Wednesday night interview with sports website Sporting News
. "People are going to have their psychologists talk to him. It could turn out that he’s still judged on his ability, but they’re going to find out the particulars of this situation."
Brandt is a draft analyst for NFL.com who originally predicted Te'o would be a late first-round pick, possibly selected by the Giants. He said the controversy could already have impacted the linebacker's performance. He struggled in the bowl game against Alabama on Jan. 7.
"I couldn’t believe what I saw that night," Brandt said. "Against a very good Oklahoma team during the season, this guy was the catalyst. And he had seven interceptions at linebacker. Just an outstanding year. But in the game against Alabama, he wasn’t anywhere near the ball. It was like Tiger Woods shooting 110."
Prior to the revelation, much of the athlete's inspirational story had been built around his ability to perform well on the gridiron in spite of suffering the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend within a short time. In the game immediately following the supposed death of his girlfriend, Notre Dame beat Michigan State 20-3, with Te'o racking up 12 tackles in the game.
This isn't the first time an athlete's personal life has affected his standing in the draft. In the past, players seen their stock fall due to run ins with the law or other scandals. Though Te'o hasn't committed a crime, it remains to be seen how the catfish hoax affects him in the eyes of the NFL.
Reacting to the media revelation of the hoax, Te'o released a statement on Wednesday.
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," he said. "To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."
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