There is no denying the Manti Te’o situation is one of the most absurd stories in sports history, and one that is far from being over. There are still so many unanswered questions that will either leave Te’o looking like the most narcissistic athlete around, the absolute dumbest person to ever be catfished, or some bizarre combination. Neither of those is good for him. While it may go down as the largest and most perplexing sports hoaxes of all time, it will never be the saddest.
No, the most pathetic hoax in sports history still belongs to one kid who just couldn’t face reality: Kevin Hart, the offensive lineman from Nevada who spurned Oregon to accept a scholarship from the Cal Golden Bears, despite never actually receiving a scholarship offer from any D-I school due to his 1.8 GPA and lack of athletic skill.
On signing day in 2008, Hart called a news conference in his school’s gymnasium with the entire student body, coaches, administrators, family, and the media to announce his college decision. It was the classic setup with an Oregon and Cal hat on the table and he awkwardly grabbed the Cal hat, claiming he would play for the Golden Bears and coach Jeff Tedford. It was heartwarming. He had a dream of playing Division I football and got his chance, becoming the first D-I player from Fernley High along the way.
“Coach [Jeff] Tedford and I talked a lot, and the fact that the head coach did most of the recruiting of me kind of gave me the real personal experience.”
Little did the public know, Hart was duping us all.
Well, he duped his community for a few hours, at least. A few hours is all it took for Cal to hear about its newest “recruit” and immediately call Fernley administrators to inform them that Tedford barely knew who the kid was and that the school certainly had not offered him a scholarship. Hart was making the whole thing up. The general public didn’t know about it until the whole embarrassing lie came crumbling down.
At one point he was being looked at by a few schools during his junior year, but his poor grades and actual on-field play made everyone back off and he slipped into obscurity. Hart wanted none of it so he just kept the ruse going, informing friends, family, and coaches that he was still being recruited. In the months leading up to his press conference he told the school newspaper that he had received offers from Oregon and Washington and was recruited by Nevada, Boise State, Oregon State, Illinois, and Oklahoma state
As with the Te’o story, building lies on top of lies usually ends in humiliation. After being completely painted into a corner about his lack of scholarship offers, Hart said he was duped by a recruiting agent and filed a false police report, but that was put to rest with a quick police probe and finally he came clean.
“I wanted to play D-I ball more than anything. When I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I made up what I wanted to be reality.”
And that quote is what makes this so much sadder than the Te’o story. We are still a ways a way from knowing what actually happened with Manti, but no matter what it seems that others were involved somehow. It’s doubtful Manti made the whole thing up by himself, especially with more reports on Ronaiah Tuiasosopo coming to light. There is no arguing that it will be one of the most complex, disturbing, and elaborate sports hoaxes of our time, but it certainly won’t be the most pathetic. That still belongs to Hart.
Kevin Hart was the mastermind behind his entire hoax. There wasn’t a distant cousin or a shady family friend who duped him; he was just a bummed out kid who wanted so badly to play college football that he made up one of the most ridiculous schemes to fulfill his dream, only to have it crash down on him in a matter of hours. He told everyone he was recruited by a slew of FBS schools. He held a press conference. He got caught in the lie and then tried to lie his way out by claiming he was played by a recruiting agent. He falsified a police report. It was all a lie based on a false sense of reality.
Hart ended up attending/playing/coaching at Feather River College (a junior college) for four years before heading to D-II Missouri Western this season. How he can put on a college football jersey and show up every day is mindboggling after what he put himself through, because he will always be the kid who fronted the saddest hoax in sports.