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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

The Long Con

January 17, 2013

I blink and half of the month disappears. The cascading flow of time continues to move at an ever-increasing speed, spiked with elements of the surreal and the inexplicable and the amazing. It's quite a sensation, the perception of free falling like the man in the opening of Mad Men simultaneously contrasted with feeling more in control of my life than I've been in many respects in a very long time.

For those of you who care about the First Amendment, there is a trial going on in Tampa involving a civil lawsuit between talk radio hosts Todd Schnitt, the plaintiff, and Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, the defendant. In my opinion it should have been thrown out in summary judgment, but the law has an interesting way of being applied at times in Hillsborough County, Florida. The list of potential witnesses is ridiculous, to the point of mirroring the final episode of Seinfeld, and I know the vast majority of the people scheduled to be called to the stand to one degree or another. Hell, if I hadn't left town in 2006, I would probably be on the witness list myself. I'm certainly glad I'm not.

I worked for Bubba for 3+ years and interacted a few times with Schnitt in 2003, who was actually always cordial toward me even though he knew who I worked for in the Clear Channel Tampa building. I consider his lawsuit against Bubba to be baseless and unworthy of tying up the legal system, particularly with case law like Hustler v. Falwell on the books, but like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, application of the law in Hillsborough County, Florida sometimes happens in unusual ways.

Sometime late last year, my Dreamhost web hosting account fell victim to a hacker. I'm not exactly sure if it was on my end or Dreamhost's or somewhere in-between, but the hacker managed to mangle things enough to where Google believed some of my sites had been compromised. Not all of them were hit -- but my money-makers were all targeted, including this site, which really isn't a money-maker per se but is worth its weight in gold to me for the narrative it has allowed me to produce through the years.

The problems have all been fixed, but unfortunately for me I'm still in Google Time Out and my targeted sites aren't showing up in Google searches. This is decidedly inconvenient considering that this is busy season for Draft King (my crown jewel), though luckily I've been in the NFL mock draft game long enough to where most of the major indy sites link to me. But, for the short-term, I'm stuck with traffic emanating from those sites and search engines like Yahoo and Bing, but not Google.

Last night I woke up about 10 p.m. EST after ~7 hours of sleep, brewed a cup of coffee with the wonderful Keurig coffee maker that my parents gave me, and pulled up my Twitter feed. When I first wake up it takes me a few minutes to clear the cobwebs and for my motor skills to power back up, and immediately I tried to wrap my brain around the story that was going crazy from seemingly everyone I followed: the saga of Manti Te'o and his make-believe girlfriend who supposedly died during the 2012 season.

I'll spare you my rehash of it, but the story, which put Deadspin on the mainstream map in a way it had never been spotlighted before, had already moved past the shock-and-awe phase into the cynic's world: what did Manti know and when did he know it? It doesn't take long for that to happen online, and you can spare me the diatribes about this being a bad thing, because that's how people really act and talk and think. The internet just puts it out there without the sugar-coating.

If you think I'm joking, you should have heard some of the conversations I was involved in when I first got into work last night. People know I run Draft King and love football and have certain insights about star NFL prospects, though this fell entirely outside of my purview. But the discussion quickly moved from being incredulous/amazed at what happened to wondering if part of this was a ploy to win sympathy from Heisman voters. Want to be the first linebacker ever to win the Heisman? You'll need more than just an inordinate amount of interceptions -- you need a dynamite story to sell to the public.

But I've watched the video of him talking about his girlfriend and accepting the game ball in her memory after Notre Dame's win over Michigan, and seen interviews with him discussing her, and the typical tells that are commonplace with people when they are lying aren't there. At all. Your eyes can give you away more than you realize, which is why so many people who play top-level Texas Hold 'em wear shades, and there aren't any tells that I can observe in watching video segments of Te'o. And, while I'm not Vincenzo Coccotti in True Romance, I've learned enough in my time to be able to spot a wide variety of tells.

Te'o doesn't touch his nose or have his eyes go up and to the right (for most people their eyes move up and to the left when they are recalling something but up and to the right when they are making something up) or have voice inflection or speed changes or any of the other things that give most people away. Plus, while the death of a loved one is sad, it wasn't so extraordinarily to the point of being an overwhelming selling point. And unless he thought he could keep the ruse going indefinitely, he would have known that eventually the truth would have come out and he would be shown to be a fraud, with or without a Stiff Arm Trophy.

If Te'o was working everyone, he should pursue acting after his NFL career, because he sold me all the way. Most likely, what Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said last night is true: Te'o was the "perfect mark" for such an improbable scam. In time, the truth will come out, we'll find out to what degree (if any) Te'o was involved, and that will be that. In the meantime? If nothing else, it has given plenty of people a fascinating story to contemplate.

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