For a couple days, it was just a random word many in social media were using to describe the bizarre story involving one of college football's most recognizable personalities. Then we learned there's a whole TV show on MTV dedicated to tracking down 'catfishing' victims and telling their stories. Then we realized Manti Te'o wasn't alone. And If there's one thing Te'o can take solace in after this whole situation, that would be it. He wasn't the first person targeted. Sadly and disturbingly, he won't be the last.
In fact, as we'll learn here, college athletes seem to be prime targets for such hoaxes. They're young, they're impressionable, they're recognizable, and they're accessible, which in turn makes them vulnerable.
Los Angeles Angels prospect Michael Roth — who has started a game in each of the last College World Series while pitching for South Carolina — knows this from his own experience while playing in a summer league in Maine. He recently shared the story with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
"Are you the cute Michael I met?" read the message.
That started a stream of flattering texts and alluring phone calls from a woman Roth never had met, including the requisite visits that inevitably were canceled at the last minute.
Roth said he sensed something fishy within a few weeks. He played along for a year, in the process discovering that three of his college teammates also had been in touch with the same woman, who claimed her name was Hope Porter.
"As athletes, you're a target in general," Roth said Friday. "I think it's part of the problem with a guy being a guy, when you're younger. You see an attractive girl that tweets at you or texts at you or whatever, and you're somewhat intrigued.
"It's hard being a guy and not using your brain at times."
Of course, it's just not guys who are having their minds messed with. It's happening to women, teenagers and people of all ages, and it's happening everywhere. But still, the person Roth can relate to most — and the reason he probably even felt comfortable talking about it publicly — is Manti Te'o, so we're sure he can sympathize with the guy a little bit.
"To an extent," Roth said, laughing. "You can't fall in love over a phone. … I wasn't sleeping with a phone, that's for sure."
Poor Manti. He's never going to live that part down, is he?