February 01, 2013 by Bryan Fyalkowski
A few months ago over Labor Day weekend, my roommate invited my girlfriend and me to spend a few days with him and his girlfriend at his house in Tampa, Fla. We enjoyed the days sitting around the pool and spent the nights relaxing on the dock with fishing poles in the water.
One night, a catfish caught on the line. It was truly a horrible-looking creature, and it left a slimy film as we let it squirm around on the deck while we decided what to do with it. My roommate, who is a music industry major and an amateur fisherman, said it was too disgusting to eat, so he explained that we had two options. We could either let it go free or bash it on the head with a two-by-four so it wouldn’t bite the hook again.
As fun as that sounded, we made a group decision to let it go and allow it to live another day. Little did I know, that good-for-nothing catfish would swim its way up to South Bend, Ind., and leave its slimy trail all over Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame University football program, and a handful of the most trusted national media sources.
Before Deadspin.com broke the story about Te’o and the nonexistence of his supposedly deceased girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, I had no idea what catfishing was in relation to online scamming. Even though I had little background in this type of scandal, this story caught my interest immediately. I mean, it’s not every day the sports world is hit with a soap opera-esque story of love, lies, catfishing and intrigue.
At first, it seemed unrealistic to think Te’o was gullible enough to have an in-depth relationship with a girl he never met. In my mind, there was no other conclusion than to believe Te’o was the fisherman and we were the catfish, and as the story went along, he was deciding whether to let us go or smash in our heads as we wriggled on the dock.
But after some additional information and interviews became available in the aftermath of the Deadspin story, Te’o seemed less like a co-conspirator and more like a helpless victim. In reality, Te’o was the catfish, the scammers were the fishermen, and we were like sharks surveying the situation, waiting patiently for blood to hit the water.
Te’o is religious and family oriented, so from the outside looking in, it seemed like his priorities were in order. Te’o was also a national icon and just seemed like a smart guy. If Te’o could get catfished, who else could be in danger of this type of scam? This made me wonder if something like this happen to one of our very own.
Could a Drexel University student-athlete get catfished?
The truth is that no Dragon is close to being as nationally renowned as Te’o, not even junior point guard Frantz Massenat of the men’s basketball team, who made headlines with his game-winning half-court shot against Hofstra University Jan. 23. That fact alone brings down the chances of a Dragon being the target of online scamming.
“I’d say potentially athletes could be a target,” senior men’s lacrosse attack Robert Church said. “But they’re not gonna get the media attention if they went after someone like me compared to a Manti Te’o or a Johnny Manziel-type player.”
“A Notre Dame football player is somewhat different than . . . a Drexel golfer,” senior golfer Ben Feld said.
“I believe student-athletes might be more vulnerable than others,” senior men’s basketball shooting guard Derrick Thomas said. “Based on the idea that our name’s out there in public, more often than the average student.”
Most of the Drexel student-athletes admitted that the chances of getting catfished were low, but they also acknowledged that it’s hard to pinpoint why someone would make such an attempt.
“People are always looking for a scam, whether their motives are for profit or malice,” junior club roller hockey defenseman Zak Harrison said.
“The motives behind catfishing are so weird,” senior ice hockey forward Scott Wallace said. “I guess if someone wanted to be involved with a hockey player bad enough, it would be an option.”
Online scamming can begin with a simple Facebook friend request from a stranger. These are very common for anyone who has a social media account, but each person has their own personal preference as to how they deal with these inquiries.
“I just look and see who the person is,” sophomore men’s swimmer John Quagliariello said. “If I don’t know any of their friends or anything, I don’t respond to it from there.”
“I’ll usually check out their profile to see if I recognize them,” Wallace said. “If not, I usually just let them marinate in my friend requests. Then they can’t request me again.”
“I don’t ever accept a friend request if I don’t know the person,” junior men’s tennis player Tyler Pultro said. “I keep to people I know, and that’s it.”
The aftermath of the Te’o catfishing incident has made some people reconsider their use of social media because interacting with people you don’t know is as dangerous as ever. Society has changed, and it’s getting more and more difficult to trust people.
“I don’t think I would go out and meet someone on social media,” senior women’s basketball forward Taylor Wootton said. “It’s kinda not how I would perceive a relationship.”
“The fact that people are out there doing this stuff is pretty crazy,” Church said. “It definitely opens your eyes.”
But one of the more interesting factors of the Te’o incident is how the people around him were also sucked in. For instance, Te’o’s teammates and family believed him even though none of them saw the supposed girlfriend in person. There is certainly a fine line between looking out for a teammate and trusting a teammate when he or she says everything is fine.
“It would depend on the teammate and what we knew about him,” Feld said. “But I would definitely be looking out for him and being like, ‘Look, man, maybe you should see how legitimate this is.’”
“That kind of situation would be very difficult,” junior club roller hockey center Steve Utain said. “It would be hard to tell him that she might not be real, especially if he said he had a relationship with her.”
“If he showed us a picture, we wouldn’t really second guess it if he’s our teammate,” Pultro said. “Because I know of people who have met online, I would kind of just trust him.”
As for being prepared for the dangers of social media, Drexel student-athletes go through a seminar at the beginning of the year that outlines how to interact online safely.
“They gave us dos and don’ts just to make sure we’re representing the University well,” Quagliariello said. “It’s stuff that you kinda have to know how to do already just being in the social technology world.”
“We had a guy come in this year, and he gave us the whole rundown,” Church said. “His motto was, ‘If you’re not gonna stand in the middle in campus and yell it, don’t put it on Twitter.’”
“Our team can’t tweet this year, so I’m not on Twitter at all,” Wootton said. “We were clean and good, so no one got in trouble, but it’s just to stay focused.”
Staying off social media entirely is a great step toward staying focused. Whether you are studying for a final, preparing for a game or writing a news article, managing the time you spend on Twitter and Facebook is one of the most difficult things to do.
Inevitably, you’ll find yourself back on the Internet, either chatting it up with friends or scrolling through Twitter looking for something to pass the time. When you flip open your laptop, just make sure you choose your company wisely and don’t fall victim to the unknown.
“The Te’o incident has only further solidified the fact that you can’t trust anyone or anything online,” senior club ice hockey forward Dylan Dignan said. “You never know who’s on the other side of the keyboard.”
Because there’s no sense in frying up a catfish when there are so many more fish in the sea.