Manti Te'o Q&A with Deadspin's Jack Dickey

01/22/2013 11:50 AM ET
By Staff

Jack Dickey of broke the news of the hoax involving Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o.(AP)
Last week, Editorial Fellow Jack Dickey broke the story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his potential “girlfriend hoax.” This week, Dickey sat down with to provide an in-depth account of the events leading up to the most popular story in Deadspin history, as well as the immediate impact it’s had on sports journalism. How gratifying was it for you and Deadspin to be the ones to break this story, over all the major media outlets covering Te’o?

Jack Dickey: This is the perfect Deadspin story. As I told my boss (Deadspin Editor-in-Chief Tommy Craggs), part of what we do is hold or try to hold the mainstream sports media accountable; so, to get a tip like this that the mainstream media had missed – and missed in service of the direction they’ve gone lately, doing these maudlin features about sports instead of just covering what happens on the field – and be able to get at the major outlets in that way, was immensely gratifying.

YES: How long did you think you had this story? How much time elapsed, say, between tip and finished product, and what goes through your mind during that process?

Dickey: We got the tip the Friday afternoon prior to publishing on Wednesday, so we had five days…but we were hustling on it over that weekend. The tipster had told us that it wasn’t uncommon knowledge in Hawaii that Lennay Kekua was fake, and as we did some research, we found that there were some tweets that had been public that were no longer visible saying she didn’t exist, so we knew there was a chance this story was out there.

YES: What do you think of the backlash and ridicule that has now fallen on Te’o?

Dickey: Well, there are a couple of different forms of backlash. One is the locker room backlash, where people may question Te’o’s character or orientations, but the other, bigger one is the backlash from the public that he was somewhat complicit in this fraud to boost his Heisman candidacy. Again, that’s not something we’ve committed to, but something that people using logic can easily figure out; the guy never met the love of his life, so there’s probably some embellishment somewhere in the story. That backlash is probably going to be more damaging to him long-term, I think.

YES: In light of that, do you think this whole situation will hurt Te’o’s draft stock? Will what’s now become a potential character issue cost him like it has many others?

Dickey: Well, now I have to imagine that teams will devote resources into looking into this whole situation, and certainly they’ll ask him about it, and I think what his answers are will determine a lot. The problem for him that might not have been a problem for guys like Warren Sapp or Randy Moss in the past, for example, is that Te’o’s character is such a big part of his appeal. He’s supposed to be a great guy and a leader and all that, and this calls all of that into question regardless of his complicit he was in all of it; either he’s a guy who had a fake girlfriend and doesn’t think to question it, which is a judgment or naivete issue, or he’s a guy who manipulated the media for the sake of his Heisman candidacy, which is much worse. I don’t think any team will think of him as the sterling character guy he was two months ago, so he might fall because of that, but you never know.

YES: That day, after you broke the story, other outlets picked up on it quickly; how much of a boost was that for Deadspin?

Dickey: It’s funny that the day we published, ESPN said they were working on it and just weren’t able to confirm it. I don’t think it was their intention to dump on our reporting per se, but it was more just to explain why they hadn’t yet retracted previous coverage. Then, in Richard Deitsch’s column Tuesday, they explained that they got the tip from Te’o’s agency that there was something fishy, and that Te'o’s people might want to get out in front of it! If they had covered the story, they would have done it a different way, and I think completely committed to the idea that he was duped. We’re noncommittal on that, we have a good idea that he was duped at some point, but don’t know when he became more complicit in it; they, however, probably would have said ‘poor Manti Te’o,’ and a lot of the college football writers who did the original Te’o stories have committed to his version of the events too.

YES: So overall, what do you think this has done for your site? Do you think this has added credibility for, say, people who think Deadspin is just another blog-type site?

Dickey: This is our biggest story ever, which means two things: First of all, of course, it means more traffic and more eyeballs on the site, which is always a good thing, and hopefully some of those people stick around after it has kind of washed away. And secondly, it means that the whole Brett Favre texting racy photos situation from a few years back is no longer the most popular story in the history of Deadspin, which I think is good, right? (laughs)

YES: Well certainly for Brett, right?

Dickey: Of course (laughs). But, the point of that whole issue is this: I think with this, we won over some skeptics; a lot of people have the wrong idea about Deadspin, and this story was a solid investigative story that any newspaper would’ve done. With the Favre story, you can make the case that it was a workplace sexual harassment story that any outlet would’ve covered, and people certainly asked Favre about it, but with this story, there’s nothing lurid about it. So, with the people who thought less of us because some of our big investigative stories like Favre or Josh Hamilton’s relapse have been those kind of lurid stories, perhaps they’ll see this and say it’s something any outlet would have killed to have done. I would say that with this issue, we’ve proven our merit to some of those skeptics, especially because, for example, outlets like ESPN had to credit us; there was no way around it, because there were portions of the story that we corrected their original reporting on.

For more from Jack Dickey on the Manti Te’o controversy, tune in to an all-new This Week in Football airing throughout the week. comments