Think that Manti Te’o is the only athlete naive enough to be a “Catfish” victim? Think again. Michael Roth, one of the Los Angles Angles of Anaheim’s highly touted pitching prospects, says that he was also caught up in a fraudulent relationship for nearly a year. Roth was the starting pitcher for South Carolina in each of the last three College World Series championship games. After winning the championship in 2010, Roth traveled to Maine to pitch in a summer league.
It was here that Roth received a text message from an unknown number. The text message asked if Roth was the cute Michael the unknown person had met. Roth spent time texting and speaking on the phone with a woman he had never met, just like Te’o. And just like Te’o, Roth never met the woman claiming to be Hope Porter. Scheduled meetings were always cancelled and even though Roth suspected something wasn’t right after a few weeks, he continued to communicate with the woman for almost a year. Throughout the episode, Roth learned that three of his teammates had also been communicating with the woman.
“As athletes, you’re a target in general,” Roth told the LA Times. “I think it’s part of the problem with a guy being a guy, when you’re younger. You see an attractive girl that tweets at you or texts at you or whatever, and you’re somewhat intrigued.”
While Roth said that he never fell in love or slept on the phone with the woman, he was able to sympathize with Te’o.
The more disturbing aspect of this story is that the phenomenon of “catfishing” someone seems to be more of a normal than isolated occurrence with young adults. It would seem that those participating in the vast opportunities of social media have excepted the risk of falling victim to similar schemes. While I could go on a tangent about how social media is debilitating the way human relationships are truly formed and maintained, the focus should remain on what athletes can do to avoid falling victims to similar situations.
The University of Michigan is one school that has become active in helping to educate young athletes on the trappings of social media. The school’s athletic director hired a hired a pair of consulting firms to monitor how university student-athletes were behaving on social media.
“One of the two consulting groups … utilized a young, attractive woman to go online and contact student-athletes. Did anyone take the bait? Some of them did, and established contact online with her,” athletic director Dave Brandon told the Toledo Blade. “The unnamed woman turned over to athletic department officials posts and comments that were made, and the names of student-athletes. During a presentation to Michigan’s student-athletes regarding social media awareness, the athletic department introduced the woman to the student athletes.”
While the method of education may seem odd, there’s nothing that does more to educate than experience. Te’o’s story may be enough for athletes to consider before engaging in an online relationship, but active education can only help. Universities across the country should follow in Michigan’s steps and take time and effort to address the students. The best solution for most would be to avoid social media, but in a culture that promotes social media avidly, giving athletes the tools to defend themselves seems more probable.