INDIANAPOLIS—One of the most anticipated moments of the NFL Scouting Combine occurred far away from the turf Saturday afternoon.
Manti Te’o faced a press conference for the first time since the dead girlfriend hoax that made headlines across the globe last month.
“It’s pretty crazy,” the former Notre Dame linebacker said as he surveyed a scene that included more than 100 reporters, microphones and cameras at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I’ve been in front of a few cameras, but not as many as this.”
For the next 15 minutes, Te'o calmly and confidently answered each of the nearly three dozen questions hurled in his direction. He sounded like a man eager to move past the "embarrassing" scandal and forward with his burgeoning football career.
“I could have done some things different," he said. "There are a lot of things I could have done to avoid all of this stuff. It was definitely embarrassing. It’s only going to make me stronger in the end, and it definitely has.”
Te’o said his subpar performance in the Irish’s loss to Alabama in the national title game had nothing to do with scandal, which had yet to become public. He also said that he does not intend to press charges against Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged mastermind of the hoax.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Both families are going through chaos.”
Te’o said the most difficult part of the entire experience came during a phone call from his sister at the height of the media scrutiny.
“She told me that they had to sneak my own family in their home because there were people parked in the yard and stuff like that,” he said. “Something that I’ve always had a problem with is when I can’t do something about it and knowing I can’t help, and knowing that my family was in that situation because of the actions that I committed was definitely the hardest part for me.”
All of the unwanted attention, he said, has taught him to be more empathetic to others experiencing personal turmoil.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” he said. “One of the positive things that I [learned] is to empathize with those who are going through the same thing, those who are going through some hard times or who are gaining attention they don’t necessarily want.”
Since arriving in Indianapolis, Te’o said he's been interviewed by the Texans and Packers. Eighteen more teams are on his schedule – and he knows that he’ll be asked more tough questions about the controversy surrounding the scandal. Te'o has steadfastly maintained that he's a victim and that he had no knowledge or involvement in the hoax.
He also said his plan is a simple one: tell the truth.
“They want to know somebody … to be able to trust their player,” he said. “You don’t want to invest in somebody they can’t trust.”
As Te’o faced the media, teams watched from afar.
“We'll watch that. I think that’s a very valuable part of the process, handling media when they have to talk in front of you guys,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said before the news conference. “It’s not a be-all, end-all decision-maker, but we can tell if this guy needs some polish or technique if we do draft this guy on how to handle the media.”
Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said he doesn’t think the scandal will have a negative impact on Te’o’s draft position. He’s projected to be a late first round draft pick.
“We'll talk about it, we'll find out about it,” Rivera said. “The bottom line is, is he a good person and can he play football? I don't think it's going to hurt his draft stock.”
Te’o closed the press conference by thanking his family, Notre Dame and everyone who has supported him.
“I couldn’t do it without all of you, and just hopefully, after this, I’ve answered the things I need to answer and you know, we can move on with football,” he said.