A team spokesman for the San Diego Chargers recently announced that rookie linebacker Manti Te'o would not be available to the media until the start of June minicamp, which begs the question—are the Chargers already mishandling Te'o by shielding him from the media?
Since news broke of the girlfriend hoax involving Te'o in January, the former Notre Dame linebacker has been subjected to more interviews and press conferences than most athletes go through in a lifetime.
But after the off-camera interview with Jeremy Schaap, the televised special with Katie Couric, the poor performance against Alabama in the BCS championship, the bad combine, the countless jokes and public humiliation, can it really get much worse for Te'o now that he's found a home in the NFL?
From what we've seen thus far up to this point, Te'o has handled himself fairly well given the severity of what he's been through. If anything, I'd think he'd be ready for whatever the media has to throw at him by now.
One particular episode from the Te'o saga that sticks with me in demonstrating that thick-skinned mentality was his press conference at the NFL combine in February. ESPN blogger Bill Williamson called it "the most anticipated player news conference in NFL scouting combine history,"
Like Williamson, I thought Te'o handled the zoo of reporters and cameras exceptionally well, answering the flurry of questions calmly and politely. It was at that moment I believed Te'o was ready to enter the NFL, from a character standpoint.
So that leads me to the big question surrounding this "organizational decision" by the Chargers to keep Te'o from the media until mid-June—was it the right decision?
No, but do I understand it? Yes.
By shielding Te'o from the media, it makes the situation seem bigger than it is already. We knew Te'o would be dealing with questions about the hoax when he entered the NFL, possibly for the duration of his entire rookie season, but by placing a media ban on a player, it drags the process out.
Granted, this ban isn't in place for an extended period of time, so it shouldn't make headlines during the course of the 2013 season, but it does have an effect on the organization nonetheless.
Because the media won't have access to Te'o till June, reporters will likely go around the locker room looking for a teammate to reflect on Te'o's situation, which could result in resentment from Te'o's new family.
It also makes Te'o seem like he's getting special treatment from the organization when he hasn't even made the team yet. Mike Klis of The Denver Post touched on some of these issues in a recent blog post.
That being said, I can understand why the team has chosen to invoke such special circumstances with Te'o so early in this process. Given that this is Te'o's first year in the pros with a new team, I'm assuming that this decision was made to help him concentrate on learning a new system and focus on football.
After what this young man has been through, I'm sure it's going to take an extra bit of effort to lead him down the right path in becoming a polished member of the Chargers.
However, if the media ban is to be upheld, it should be extended to the non-football world as well. The Associated Press reported earlier this past week that Te'o made an appearance at a Maxim party in Hollywood celebrating the magazine's list of the world's 100 hottest women.
When asked about his second-round pick's decision to attend the party, Chargers' head coach Mike McCoy simply shrugged it off, implying that he and Te'o were not on the same page in that instance.
For this to work out, Te'o and the organization need to see eye to eye.
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