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Updated Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 01:16 AM

Many years before Manti Te'o, Steve Broussard involved in similar hoax

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

Head down, still in uniform after the Apple Cup loss to Washington, Washington State's Steve Broussard walked into the interview room to discuss the game and, perhaps to talk about the heavy heart he brought into it.

At the team breakfast that morning Broussard told his coaches that his sister had died and he wasn't sure he would be ready to play.

Now this uncomfortably crowded room was the last place he wanted to be after a difficult 20-9 loss and a confusing, emotional day.

Before Broussard entered, coach Mike Price and other WSU assistants confirmed that, before pregame warmups, they weren't certain their star tailback would play. They believed he was telling the truth when he told them his sister had died.

After the game, in which he had played like the first-round draft pick he would become, Broussard still was wearing an armband with the message, "RIP SIS," written in magic marker. His voice was soft, barely above a whisper. He didn't want to talk about his day.

His answers were vague. But we pushed him into telling us things that just weren't true.

As the football fairy tale of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and the "death" of his nonexistent girlfriend began to unspool, I was, um, reminded by readers last week of the column I wrote about Broussard after the 1989 Apple Cup.

I was assigned the Cougars' locker room after the Apple Cup. I interviewed Broussard, his coaches and teammates, then wrote about his difficult day.

A few hours later, I took a red eye across country for a Sunday Seahawks game. When I got to my hotel in the Meadowlands, the red message light on my phone was blinking. My sports editor's voice told me that Broussard's sister was alive and well.

Ugh!

There are a few similarities and a lot of differences between the two hoaxes.

Unlike Te'o, Broussard didn't want to share his story with us. Whatever was happening to him, he believed, was personal. He asked for privacy that we (I) didn't allow him.

This wasn't some well-conceived hoax. There was nothing malicious about Broussard's story. He wasn't a victim in the way, it appears, Te'o was.

He would later tell us that a close friend, but not his biological sister, had died before the game. His mourning was real. His story wasn't. Even though he didn't want me to write it, I believed the story was too good to ignore.

There's nothing ugly about the unraveling of Broussard's narrative. In the confusion and emotion of that day, he got trapped inside his own story and, rather than admit the truth, he tried to say as little as possible, hoping it would go away.

The fact his story was told was our fault, not his.

The Te'o hoax, however, is ugly on so many levels. He is the victim of the lies authored by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, but he and his university, Notre Dame, also are complicit in the hoax.

The great Notre Dame information machine didn't come forward with the truth even after it discovered the hoax on Dec. 26. And Te'o talked about the hard-to-comprehend love of his fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua at the Heisman Trophy presentation even though by then he knew he had been duped.

We still don't know the whole truth. But Notre Dame loved this story. After all, this is the school of The Gipper. What a great theme this was for Notre Dame in this season when it returned to glory. You talk about waking up the echoes. The Fighting Irish became the faking Irish.

Too bad the university couldn't have been as compassionate addressing the death of student Declan Sullivan, who was killed when the hydraulic scissor lift he was using to film the team's practice collapsed in heavy winds in 2010.

And it's a shame Notre Dame couldn't have shown more sympathy a few years ago for Lizzy Seeberg after she committed suicide following a report she filed that said she was assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.

Te'o told his story over and over again. Notre Dame let him. But Broussard just wanted to be left alone.

For years, I thought Broussard owed me an apology. But now all these years later, I think I just might have to tell him I'm sorry for telling a story he absolutely didn't want told.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.


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