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A Contrast In Handling Turmoil: EJ Manuel and Manti Te'o


In the past week the legend and mythos surrounding Manti Te'o have been torn down and sullied. After the national media spent a season building the young man up, fact-checking nothing and taking almost every account at face value, they've now turned with a vengeance on the senior linebacker from Notre Dame.

Te'o did go through at least one personal tragedy this year, the death of his grandmother back in September. Six hours later his girlfriend purportedly passed away and quickly both tragedies were splashed across pages of sports sections across the country, Te'o was giving interviews regularly and his plight became a source of inspiration for his team, his university and many across the nation.

And there's nothing wrong with that, but as Te'o has quickly found out, the very public nature of his personal turmoil can now just as easily be used against him. Every interview he did, every bit of sympathy he was given, can just as easily be turned on him. In many circles, there is a very tangible anger over the perception that Te'o may have used personal tragedy to manipulate public sentiment in his favor.

Contrast that with Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel, who held his own personal turmoil inside for an entire season. While Manuel was battling on the field for the Seminoles this year, his mother was battling for her life off of it. Diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, she was undergoing chemotherapy while her son was playing through the biggest season of his life.

I sat in the Seminole press room every Monday during the season and watched EJ Manuel stand before the media for his weekly press conference. At times- like after the losses to NC State and Florida- it felt like more of a firing line than a 'friendly media contingency.'

But EJ Manuel did not make excuses, he did not use the upheaval in his personal life as a shield or a rallying cry. As EJ Manuel's mother fought her own battle, Manuel woke each day, steeled himself and continued to grind through an entire season.

After the Seminoles' devastating loss to NC State, it would have been easy to leak news of his mother's plight to someone in the local media and get some of the heat off his back.

But Manuel never did. He never even showed signs of the emotional tempest brewing just beneath the surface.

The lone hint came at a time when the emotion could be easily overlooked. As his mother joined him on the field before the senior day game his eyes welled up, he could barely hold himself together. Fans and media alike chalked it up to the culmination of a long career at Florida State. It was so much more.

Manuel would go on to have arguably the worst game of his career that day, throwing three interceptions and fumbling once in a 37-26 loss to the rival Florida Gators. The fanbase came down on Manuel hard afterward, his critics were never louder, and still he kept the turmoil close to his chest.

It was not until December 26th, after Florida State had clinched their first ACC title in seven years and were preparing for their Orange Bowl matchup with Northern Illinois- when Manuel's mother was about to undergo her final chemotherapy session, her cancer all but beaten- that Manuel finally spoke.

"I knew nobody else was going to care, to be honest with you," Manuel told ESPN. "People will say, sorry, and this and that, but you've still got to go out and play. I understood that. That's why I never really said anything publicly about it, because Florida State fans may say sorry, but when you're not winning games, they're still going to have things to say negatively or just be upset."

There is no right or wrong way to handle personal turmoil, to work through difficult issues that have befallen one's family. 

But one thing is for sure, the way EJ Manuel handled his turmoil left no room for anyone to question his character.


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