In a nation that feeds off scandal, the Chargers have successfully shielded Te'o—once a lightning rod of controversy during the lead-up to the 2013 NFL draft after his infamous "catfishing" incident—from the media spotlight.
In fact, the former Notre Dame linebacker has hardly been heard from since landing in San Diego as a second-round draft pick in late April. In the process, the Chargers have set an example for teams handling a potentially distracting player.
San Diego clearly knew what kind of situation it was stepping into when the franchise moved up to No. 38 overall to take Te'o.
A Heisman Trophy finalist for the BCS championship runners-up, Te'o was discovered to be the victim of an Internet hoax following the 2012 college football season. His online girlfriend wasn't dead; she actually never existed. Over a significant period of time, Te'o had been "catfished."
The aftereffects of the story lingered throughout Te'o's preparation for the 2013 NFL draft.
Tough questions were asked. National coverage was provided daily. Every move he made was scrutinized. Quickly, Te'o became the highest-profile player in the draft class.
In April, San Diego overlooked the potential distractions and took Te'o in the second round. After signing Te'o to a four-year deal on May 9, the Chargers have since done everything in their power to protect their investment.
According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers smartly made Te'o unavailable to the media until the team's mandatory minicamp in June.
Without hoards of reporters able to talk to Te'o, national interest in the story has slowly subsided. San Diego's plan of starving the story officially worked.
Even when Te'o was available to the media during minicamp, the stories coming out were yawn-worthy—at least on the national stage.
Te'o spoke to 41 reporters following the June minicamp, per Gehlken, and answered questions for over 17 minutes. Impressions from the media session described him as "polished," "polite" and "mature."
Despite the extra media and an increased volume of questions, no big stories emerged from the meeting. Te'o's profile stayed low.
And according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the results have been positive for both Te'o and the Chargers.
Following the minicamp, Acee called Te'o one of the most "NFL-ready" rookies he's seen in nine years of covering the Chargers. His name was mentioned alongside Shawn Merriman and Kendall Reyes, both impact players during their time in San Diego.
Maybe Teo's readiness was to be expected from a former highly recruited linebacker with four years of experience at a major college program.
However, there's little denying that the Chargers' handling of Te'o during the infancy of his NFL career has established an atmosphere best suited for a controversial figure. Hidden in the shadows, Te'o has been able to focus his attention on becoming the best rookie he can be for the Chargers.
According to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, Te'o hasn't been the subject of locker-room hazing or a tidal wave of jokes. Instead, the rookie linebacker has earned respect from his teammates through his work on the field.
“I just keep my head down and work hard. If that’s all they know me as, I hope they know me as that," Te'o said. "I didn’t say much or talk much, but somebody who loves the game and keeps my family as the most important thing in my life. Someone who will work hard and overcome anything.”
The rest of the NFL could certainly take a hint from how the Chargers have dealt with the Te'o situation.
In stark contrast last summer, the New York Jets proudly displayed Tim Tebow after dealing for the high-profile quarterback. Everyone close to the situation was then bombarded by questions and speculation, and the entire experiment eventually exploded in the Jets' faces.
At least so far, the Chargers have avoided a similar fate.
San Diego won't be able to shield Te'o from the media forever, but it's entirely possible that the early avoidance of the story has all but deterred it from being a major distraction down the road. Te'o has already answered every question imaginable about the saga, and he should be given the chance to focus his entire mindset on playing football.
In their handling of the situation, the Chargers have afforded Te'o that opportunity.
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