While most people were shocked by the revelation yesterday that Manti T’eo was either the victim or perpetrator of a hoax regarding his dead “girlfriend,” it came as no surprise to me. As a retired psychotherapist, the bigger and more important questions raised remain that no matter what role this young man played in this hoax, the situation creates a confounding variable regarding his status in the upcoming NFL draft.
The armchair psychologists and media are already out in full force, and as typically happens they tend to miss the forest for the trees. At this point, the bigger questions are not around whether or not he was involved in duping the public, but what would precipitate a young man to behave this way (either as a victim or perpetrator).
If T’eo was truly a victim in this circumstance, one must now take pause and wonder what sorts of dysfunctional thinking would allow him to go so far down this path without figuring it out. At best, he used poor judgment, and any team pouring millions of dollars into a player must determine if he is as mentally fit as he is physically gifted.
If someone could be led along for such an extended period of time, one must question why he would be vulnerable to such a “hoax.” Are there some underlying emotional issues going on that cloud his ability to make good choices? This is truly something that should be dealt with by teams that are considering drafting him.
Furthermore, any franchise considering him for the draft (and that list would include the Bills) should ask him to undergo a mental health evaluation. He could have one done and a report available to teams, but if I were the GM of a team considering him, I would want a mental health professional selected by the team to do their own evaluation.
When I was in practice, I made it a habit to avoid reading other therapists evaluations before seeing a client. The reason? I trusted my own assessment skills and did not want other therapists “opinions” tainting my mind as I listened to a client and evaluated their behavior. Any team considering T’eo should not risk trusting a source who may or may not be motivated to “polish” the report because they are getting paid handsomely for their opinion.
Here are a list of my red flags and concerns at this point:
First and foremost, how is this media horror show affecting him? Is he a suicide risk? He is in an age group of highest risk for any emotional crisis resulting in suicide. If he is not seeing a therapist as he goes through this process, that is deeply concerning. His family and friends are not enough to help him through a public humiliation of this magnitude. He needs professional support at this time.
Once his mental well-being and safety have been secured, the next set of questions that need to be addressed has to do with determining whether or not T’eo may have a psychiatric disorder that requires treatment. Many psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia* (*note I am not suggesting he has either diagnosis) tend to emerge in his age group. If there is an underlying personality disorder being displayed, that too must be assessed and addressed if a team is going to make him a high first round pick.
The critical issue here is not whether or not Manti T’eo is a victim or a perpetrator. The more important variable that has now been added to the list of questions about his character is about how he handles himself going forward. If he is found to be lying about not being a participant in this hoax, this will likely come out at some point in the not too distant future.
Any psychotherapist worth their salt can “out” a liar in short order. By employing active listening skills, it’s not difficult at all to trap a person with their own words. It’s the cornerstone of therapy to help people identify when they are lying or deluding either themselves, or others, or both.
Again, distinguishing victim or perpetrator should not be seen as the goal here. The goal is to support this young man and keep him safe from this media nightmare. For any team wanting to draft him, it is important to accurately determine what the risk/benefit ratio is in drafting him in the early part of the first round.
Manti T’eo is now a very high risk, high reward type of player. Any team drafting him should include a provision in his contract that he participate in mental health counseling throughout the duration of his contract, or until a mental health provider clears him to be able to function well without ongoing support. This protects both the player and the team.