Three interesting stories in the news this week, all involving fiction of one kind or another.
First up is disgraced cycling hero and cancer surivor, Lance Armstrong. For years, Armstrong crafted the story of a tough-minded, dedicated man who beat cancer and went on to reach the pinnacle of his sport, and achieved something that seemed impossible: seven straight wins in cycling's biggest race, the Tour de France. He created a foundation that helped cancer patients, and inspired millions the world over. And when rumors surfaced that Lance cheated, he defended himself aggressively, and with such vehemence, that the story he told us had to be true. Who would have the nerve to sue someone for telling the truth?
Turns out the answer is: Lance Armstrong. Though no smoking gun (or bloody syringe) was ever found, enough evidence piled up and Armstrong was stripped of his titles, his Olympic bronze medal, and was banned from competition. He's lost millions in endorsements, faces lawsuits, potential prison time, stepped down as head of his foundation, and disappointed millions.
Next up is the story of Heisman Trophy candidate, Manti Te'o, a linebacker from Notre Dame University. Early this season, Te'o was hit by a double whammy when he learned his grandmother, then his girlfriend, died six hours apart. Girlfriend Lennay Kekua's last message to him was to play football. On the day of her funeral, Te'o had a monster game, recording 12 tackles and leading the Irish to victory. Shortly thereafter he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the story of his tragic loss was repeated all over sports media. Throughout the season, Te'o talked of Kekua and how she inspired him, how much she meant to him, and the legend grew. Te'o led the Irish to the national title game, finished second in the Heisman race, and is a likely first-round pick in the NFL draft.
This week, Notre Dame officials announced Lennay Kekua never died. She never died because she never existed. Te'o, they said, was the victim of a cruel hoax, one that had him falling in love via the internet with a girl that never existed. But new reports are suggesting that Te'o may well have beenin on the hoax. Now, Te'o is facing public ridicule, and that may cause him to fall lower than expected in the upcoming NFL draft.
Finally, there's Stacie Halas. Her fiction involved lying to officials in Oxnard, California, about her past. She made the mistake of not telling them during her job interview that she 'acted' in a number of porn films. Given that she was fired when they found out, it seems like a good decision. Students found film clips of her apparently hardcore adventures; school officials studied the evidence for several weeks before firing her. Partly for the films, partly for lying about her past. Halas fought to keep her job, but lost the appeal this week. A three judge panel ruled, "Although her pornography career has concluded, the ongoing availability of her pornographic materials on the Internet will continue to impede her from being an effective teacher and respected colleague."
Of the three people who's fiction crashed and burned around them, Stacie Halas has the hardest road ahead. Armstrong has been vilified publicly for years, and it's not going to stop. Even now, his admission of guilt is being debated and parsed, his motives dissected, and his sincerity debated. Te'o will be seen as either the world's stupidest football player, or as a lying scum. He'll be either a joke or a jerk, depending on whether he not he was a perp or a patsy in the
Captain Tuttle Lennay Kekua hoax.
But Armstrong and Te'o have something that Halas doesn't: opportunity. Armstrong is a fallen hero; America loves fallen heroes. At some point, someone will give Armstrong another chance. Even in disgrace, he's got start power. He may not get reinstated to cycling, but he'll be seen as sufficiently rehabilitated and will end up as a well-paid spokesman, a public figure. He may never be adored the world over as he once was, but he'll find a way to earn respect. Nike CEO Phil Knight already said, "Never say never" when asked if he could see Armstrong back in the Nike fold.
Te'o, meanwhile, hasn't broken any laws. This time next year he'll be finished with his rookie season in the NFL, where he'll receive a minimum salary of $405,000. Currently, he's projected as a mid-first round draft pick, which means he'll land with a mediocre team. Slipping down further in the draft may cost him money up front, but it could actually land him on a better team. Regardless, with signing and performance bonuses, the guy is looking easily at a million dollar contract. He'll have the opportunity to prove to NFL coaches that he can do his job and do it well, regardless of whether or not he was in on the scam or not.
And what can Stacie Halas look forward to? You can bet it won't involve teaching children, that's for sure. I'm guessing Ms. Halas's most lucrative job opportunity in the near future is going to involve nudity, real sex, and simulated acting. Maybe the folks at her school district are right. Maybe Halas can't command a classroom, not when her students can whip up a clip of her doing it doggie-style, or call her by her film name. But unlike Armstrong and Te'o, I doubt she'll ever get the chance to prove she can do it again. And that, I have to say, bothers me. Seems we like redemption stories better when the people are already famous when they fall.