The San Diego Chargers took Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft (38th overall), despite all of the baggage that came along with the polarizing star. Now the franchise is doing its best to shield him from the media, according to Matt Calkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
UPDATE: Tuesday, May 21, 10:20 a.m. ET by Donald Wood
After questions arose about why the San Diego Chargers would be protecting second-round draft pick Manti Te’o from the media, public relations director Bill Johnston told Sports 1360 San Diego (via Pro Football Talk) about why the franchise made this decision:
Right now, anything that he does . . . makes news. Right now, the news that people are talking about with him is really not the news that we want him to be talking about. Really, he’s a rookie, he’s a second-round draft pick, yet everybody wants to talk to him. Well, why? Well, it all goes back to that stuff that happened back in the winter, and back when he was at Notre Dame.
To us, that’s not what we want him talking about. We want him focused on becoming a Charger, on becoming a better player. Learning our system. Getting comfortable here. We want him talking football, talking Chargers, and that’s all we want him focused on right now. So we’re doing what we think is in his best interests to stay focused and become the best player he can.
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UPDATE: Monday, May 20, 2:00 p.m. ET by Donald Wood
U-T San Diego’s Michael Gehlken is now reporting the extent of the San Diego Chargers protecting rookie linebacker Manti Te’o from the media:
Michael Gehlken @GehlkenNFL
Per Chargers spokesman, Manti Te'o will be unavailable to speak to media until June 11-13 minicamp. "Organizational decision," he said.5/20/2013, 5:40:48 PM
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Te’o was not available for interviews last Monday, leading to questions about why the rookie would not be allowed to speak with the media. According to Calkins, the team is trying to protect its investment from scrutiny, but it’s only making the situation worse:
It is completely understandable that Chargers coach Mike McCoy would want to shield his celebrity of a linebacker from prying media members, and if the request came from Te’o, one can empathize with that as well. But this story isn’t like a headache or a bruise that will go away if you just leave it alone. It’s more like an anxiety disorder—the only way to kill it is with exposure.
San Diego has undergone major offseason changes after firing head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith, but there must still be fundamental issues with the franchise if the Chargers are trying to protect the linebacker from media scrutiny in today’s NFL.
Te'o has already taken it upon himself to show the mainstream media that he has moved on, going as far as attending the Maxim 100 party (h/t Yahoo! Sports) in support of his fake girlfriend being featured on the list.
Te’o has shown he is mature enough to handle all the jabs, jokes and questions thrown his way, so it’s time for the Chargers to unleash him on the San Diego and mainstream media with the rest of the rookies.
Instead, the fact that San Diego looks to be protecting the rookie only raises more questions about why the team feels the need to do so.
The more the team treats him differently, the more scrutiny that will fall on the shoulders of the talented player. With so much pressure already, the Chargers should be looking to make the second-round pick’s life easier by getting all the questions out of the way now.
Te’o’s situation can only become a distraction if the team allows it to be—which, as of right now, is exactly what's happening.