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Ex-football star Manti Te’o offers insight on success and redemption

‘Social media is a great tool … but just be very careful and use it for what it’s supposed to be for’

Manti Te’o discusses how he became a star football player and survived a 2012 catfishing incident through religion, family and perseverance at the FreightWaves Future of Freight Festival on Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Former NFL and Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o said he has experienced very public highs and lows in his life, and the most important lesson he learned from them is “fear is our greatest enemy.”

Te’o helped kick off FreightWaves’ F3: Future of Freight Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Tuesday in a keynote speech where he discussed everything from his upbringing, religion, football and a catfishing scandal that made national headlines in 2012. 

“I think fear is our greatest enemy,” Te’o said. “Fear is that cage that we’re locking ourselves in. But the more that we continue to work through that fear, the more we continue to work on ourselves.”

In 2012, Te’o experienced a standout senior season playing linebacker for the University of Notre Dame. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year, becoming only the third defense-only player in history to finish that high for the annual award given to college football’s most outstanding player.

Te’o was also part of a highly publicized catfish hoax during his senior year with the Fighting Irish and he said it helped test his resolve. Te’o’s ordeal was recently the subject of a Netflix documentary called “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.”

“It’s important to bring it to light that I didn’t know how to handle it,” Te’o said. “There’s no pamphlet that says, ‘Hey, do this, right?’ The only thing that I knew was that I just had to keep moving forward. When we’re going through these hardships in our lives, in our careers, it’s those times that are most important because those are the episodes that are going to help you to build those characteristics … that when the sun does come up the next morning, you’re going to be the best version of you.”


Te’o said he believes that anyone can achieve great success by finding something they love to do and fighting for it.

“You have to understand that the best relationship that you can have is the relationship that you have with yourself,” Te’o said.

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]