Lance Armstrong should send Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o a fruit basket or a Whitman’s Sampler, just to say “thanks.” Once king of sports drama and controversy, Lance Armstrong is in the spotlight no more. Manti Te’o and his phantom girlfriend have taken that crown wholeheartedly.
In a week that was supposed to be dominated by Lance Armstrong headlines, Deadspin.com published the sports story of the year that uncovers the fact that Manti Te’o’s relationship with his girlfriend was a complete hoax. As meaningless as this discovery may be in today’s world full of fiscal cliffs, hostage tragedies and partisan politics, the Deadspin exposé is a lowbrow story that is absolutely fascinating. I can’t get enough of it. Daytime TV writers couldn’t have schemed up a better story.
As Notre Dame was beginning to show its surprising dominance on the football field last season, its linebacker leader, Manti Te’o, had one of those inspirational stories that reporters and TV executives couldn’t ignore. On the football field, Te’o, who is from Hawaii, was a defensive force making tackles all over the field. Off the field, Te’o was in the midst of personal tragedy in September when, within hours of each other, his grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died.
Despite the personal heartache and sadness, Te’o went out onto the football field and led Notre Dame to a huge 20-3 victory over Michigan State. Te’o had an impressive performance similar reminiscent of the memorable performance Brett Favre put on after the death of his father. It was a story of inspiration and sadness. Media outlets like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and even The New York Times bit into the story.
As Notre Dame continued to win and Te’o continued to dominate (becoming a candidate for the Heisman Trophy), his triumphant story, particularly the part about his relationship with his girlfriend, got thicker and thicker. At the age of 22, Kekua had been in a serious car accident in California. Then she was diagnosed with leukemia. Te’o told Sports Illustrated of times he would phone her and stay on the phone with her as she slept in a hospital bed.
“Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma; her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice,” Sports Illustrated reported. On ESPN’s College Game Day, Te’o told of the letters Kekua had written him while she was sick. He sent letters expressing his sorrow to her parents. The story included their storybook meeting outside a Stanford football game in Palo Alto, Calif. (She was apparently a student at Stanford.)
It was a story that never ended. A fierce warrior on the field. A sympathetic, meaningful boyfriend off the field. A true gentleman of society.
And then, thanks to Deadspin reporters Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, the fairytale ended last week. The two did some sleuthing and, in short, found that there is no Lannay Kekua. If Te’o was involved in an Internet/telephone relationship, it wasn’t with Kekua, it was with someone else.
The story and his girlfriend were complete hoaxes.
There are a lot of Te’o interviews and details surrounding his so-called relationship with this girl, and the boys at Deadspin do a hell of a job laying them all out in their lengthy report. From the image of an unnamed California woman taken from Facebook and used as Kekua’s likeness to the fact that one of Te’o’s friends is a habitual online relationship forger, the details of this hoax are endlessly fascinating. To take it all in, I urge you to go online and read the story for yourself. There’s too much to get into here.
Following the publication of the Deadspin story, both Te’o and Notre Dame have defended the story, saying that the hoax was on Te’o, and that this horrible joke is on him. Te’o, they say, was not behind the hoax.
“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” Te’o said in response to the story. “We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”
The Deadspin story alone was enough to blow our minds. With Te’o saying that the hoax is all on him, and maintaining his innocence, makes the story even more mind-blowing. Didn’t he say he met her in person? Didn’t his dad meet her in person? Why didn’t he go to her funeral? How about at least one hospital visit? Did she visit the family in Hawaii?
I’m not sure why Te’o made a statement so soon after the story was published. His statement only opened up the door to even more questions about the whole thing. We all know Notre Dame is good at creating lore surrounding their football program, so they can’t be trusted in any of this.
So far, it seems, nobody has done anything illegal. So far there is no sign of extortion. Basically the media and football fans were duped into believing this heart-wrenching story for several months. I know it doesn’t really matter, but I think we all want to know if Te’o was behind it or not. And for Te’o, there is no good way out.
If he is innocent in all of this, he was duped, and duped hugely. He was duped so badly that you would have to question his intelligence. You would have to question his intelligence and his ability to be a good boyfriend. Why didn’t he see her at the hospital in person? For a guy that was such a great boyfriend, why wasn’t he there when she lay dying?
It’s hard to believe he’s innocent in this. The depth of the deception makes me think Te’o and his entire family are behind it - maybe with an eye to winning the Heisman Trophy?
Innocent or guilty, Te’o has no way out. With leadership such a prized trait in the NFL, which would you rather be, innocent and gullible or guilty and an asshole?