LOS ANGELES – Being subjected to public ridicule is fun for no one, least of all a professional athlete. Especially when it involves a girlfriend who, you know, wasn't.
But as Manti Te'o begins his NFL adventure, his fellow rookie underclassmen are united in sharing an intriguing theory: that the new San Diego Chargers linebacker's hoaxing heartbreak could actually turn out to be a positive.
It is a concept that flies in the face of popular logic that Te'o will experience a torrid time in the NFL – at the hands of rival fans, opposition players and locker room pranksters alike.
Yet a selection of rookies interviewed by Yahoo! Sports in Los Angeles on Thursday expressed the view that Te'o will be emboldened by his gantlet of media and public scrutiny.
"I don't think it is going to hurt him at all," said Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. "I don't think it is going to make it more difficult for him as a rookie because I don't think he will approach it like that.
"I kind of go the other way on it. Having experienced some kind of hardship like that can maybe help him because it toughens you up mentally. Going through difficult times like he has can make you stronger, and from what I know about him, he is the kind of guy to use it positively, to turn a negative into a positive."
Te'o was one of college football's most outstanding players and was a major part of helping the Fighting Irish reach the national title game, where he turned in a dismal performance in a 42-14 defeat against Alabama.
Possibly because of that performance, the girlfriend hoax or both, Te'o, the runner-up to Johnny Manziel in the 2012 Heisman Trophy race, fell to the second round of the 2013 NFL draft. Between the revelation of the hoax in January and the draft in April, Te'o garnered the attention of millions, culminating in an interview with Katie Couric on national television.
As ever though, the news cycle moves on, and it may be that Te'o has largely weathered the storm. Certainly that is the view of San Francisco 49ers newcomer Quinton Patton, who has spent time with Te'o during the rookie get-together in California.
"No one wants to go through something like that where your name is out there on the news and different things," Patton said. "But that was a big story for a while, and even if people don't totally forget about it, there are other things to talk about now.
"For him, I think he can use it as something to drive him on," Patton continued. "If someone wants to say something to you, then you have to believe in yourself as a winner and use it as motivation to prove them wrong. You can see what a good player he is from what he did at college and he can be a great NFL player, too."
Life is a whirlwind for the NFL rookies, who entered their team mini-camps soon after the draft, and this week they had a full schedule of activities in Los Angeles, including press calls and a Thursday visit to a local elementary school to encourage children to increase their exercise levels.
Te'o would be well advised to make a joke of the fake girlfriend situation and he appears to be doing just that after attending a party for the Maxim 100 hottest women of the year award, which humorously listed his fake girlfriend at no 69.
"That is the best approach," said New England Patriots rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson. "Just to be chill about it and laugh it off and carry on with what you do. Trying to play in the NFL is hard enough without having distractions. If there is something that could be a distraction, you need to turn it around and make it work for you."
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