At best for Manti Te’o, he was embarrassingly naive. Other athletes could be similarly gullible.
And the NFL should be concerned about that as the Te’o case unfolds. If Te’o's version is accurate, any NFL player could fall victim to the phenomenon known as “catfishing,” in which fictitious online identities are created for the purposes of establishing relationships under false pretenses.
As explained by Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick on Wednesday night, the perpetrators of the hoax against Te’o seemed to be motivated only by sport. But what if the motive, when it comes to pro athletes, is financial? These players can easily become targets for folks who would try to prey on their sudden influx of significant amounts of cash.
Then there’s the possibility that someone could use a false identity to get close to a player in order to discover information about the player or his team. The injury report is cursory; what better way for a gambler to find out who’s really injured and who isn’t than to pretend to be in a relationship with a player who won’t realize that he’s providing injury information on which bets will be based?
Far-fetched? Sure. But not as outlandish as what we’ve already heard about the “catfishing” phenomenon in the past 30 hours.
So the NFL should learn as much as it can about the phenomenon, educates players about it, and try to find out whether any players on any teams are currently being victimized by such hoaxes.