ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – The University of Michigan Athletic Department is taking issue with reports that officials “catfished” some of the school’s own Wolverines.
U-M Athletic Director David Brandon told a group in Toledo Friday morning that they had a mysterious young woman “friend” several of the school’s athletes on social media sites. Brandon said many student athletes responded to the woman, some of whose responses were “wholly inappropriate.”
After they had been communicating for some time, Brandon held an educational meeting with the athletes where the woman made a surprise appearance and the athletes were let in on the hoax.
Talking to WWJ Newsradio 950’s Sandra McNeil, U-M Athletic Department Spokesman Dave Ablauf said the school hired a consulting firm in 2011 to help the school’s athletes protect their image.
Ablauf clarified that a woman at the firm connected with the players online, but did not pretend to be a potential love interest.
“She was an actual regular person who just happens to be from Florida. She didn’t do anything that anyone else in the public couldn’t do,” he said. “Once she was given access she went in and found tweets and posts and pictures and different things that our student athletes had posted that, you know, weren’t appropriate from public consumption.”
Were the athletes embarrassed when their tweets and posted were exposed? Ablauf said no — they were grateful.
“We want our student athletes to understand how powerful the use of social media is; not only just for their time while they’re at the University of Michigan — it’s for their future, it’s for their career,” Ablauf said.
Brandon said the whole idea was developed in wake of the Manti Te’o hoax as a good way to teach student athletes of the dangers of social networking. Brandon didn’t name any of the players involved or say if any disciplinary action that would be taken against them.
The term “catfish” was first coined in a documentary about internet dating and is defined as “pretending to be someone you’re not online by posting false information, such as someone else’s pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you.”
T’eo is the linebacker from Notre Dame who is now famously known as the victim of an elaborate hoax after “falling in love” online with Lennay Kekua, who allegedly died during the 2012 season. After Notre Dame’s football season was over, it came out that Kekua was not a real person but was in fact fabricated. As it turns out, a fake profile for Kekua was created by 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who has since admitted to the hoax, saying he did it to “escape from real life” and validate that he was a good person.
“When I looked at Lennay through Manti’s eyes, I got a glimpse of who I was as far as my heart,” said Tuisasosopo, who told TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw that he fell in love with Te’o.
Te’o has said his supposed relationship with Kekua was strictly online and although he has said differently in past interviews, he never actually met her in person.