Te’o Story Just Plain Bizarre

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I found out about this story the same way I find about pretty much everything these days – via twitter. That’s fitting because this is the most modern scandal/hoax to ever hit the sports world. This simply could not have happened twenty years ago because social networking barely existed and you couldn’t have a “girlfriend” that you never actually met in person without being certifiably insane. But it’s 2013 and anything goes.

There’s obviously a lot more to come on this story and everyone is anxiously awaiting answers. Based on what is known now though, it’s difficult (for me at least) to believe that Te’o was the victim of a hoax. Let’s say that he was in no way complicit in creating Lennay Kekua, as he is suggesting, and that he essentially got catfished.

It’s possible but wouldn’t any normal person begin to get a little skeptical after a couple attempted meet-ups fell through? For all of the communicating that can take place online or over the phone, wouldn’t you at least try to skype or have some sort of face-to-face interaction (even if it’s through a computer) with the person that you are developing such strong feelings for?

I certainly would and I’m not a public figure. If I were Manti Te’o and I was getting ready for my senior season at Notre Dame, I would be extra careful with who I associated myself with, especially online. As he will probably soon find out, one misstep can seriously hinder his earnings potential in the NFL.

Clearly none of these thoughts ever crossed Te’o’s mind and that leads any logical person to believe that he had a hand in the deception. Re-watching the interviews is even stranger given what we do now. He continued to play up the tragedy of the story as he and his undefeated team gained more and more national attention.

Even after he found out that Kekua did not exist (in December according to his timeline), he continued to tell the story on the largest of stages leading up to the national championship game. Again, if I was duped I would be embarrassed but I certainly wouldn’t perpetuate the lie for the sake of avoiding shame. I’m sure he’s feeling plenty of shame now and the continuation of the story even after he and the school knew she wasn’t a real person makes me think it was a lie from the beginning.

But as soon as I’ve convinced myself that Te’o set this up from the beginning, I think about the other side. What motivation would Te’o have to create this fake sick/dying/dead girlfriend? Would the publicity garnered by this tragic story be enough to propel him into the national spotlight and Heisman consideration even if his team was not undefeated? It’s possible that this was his thought process and it’s also possible that he did not think he would get caught and/or it would not be as a big of deal as it has if he did get caught.

Still, it seems like that is just too big of a risk for a very little and undefined reward. You would have to be really stupid to try and orchestrate a stunt like this – attempting to fool literally everyone. Te’o had everything going for him as a star linebacker entering his senior season. His play on the field paired with his story about his grandma was interesting and relatable enough that he certainly did not need another tragedy to capture media attention.

There are so many layers to this story as those aren’t the only two possible outcomes. A common theory is that he was duped but continued on with the story – not openly denying it and benefiting from the untruths that had fallen upon him. Of course he never thought it would get this far or blow up in his face the way it has.

Alternatively, he could be a closeted athlete who created a fake girlfriend to throw everyone off the scent. If this is the case, by admitting that he is gay, the story changes drastically. Te’o then becomes a sympathetic figure who was a victim of society’s pressures and the stereotypical traits that a star football player at a Catholic Institution (also the highest profile college football school in the country) should have. If this is the truth, then he can be a trailblazer and become the first openly gay pro athlete.

If Te’o really had nothing to do with this, then I feel very sorry for him and I think he was extremely naive and stupid. If he didn’t create her but continued along, then that was also incredibly stupid and shortsighted. If he is gay, then he becomes the poster child of the gay community and inspires others to be themselves and avoid the measures that he went to hide his true identity. If he created the entire thing for publicity, he goes down as one of the worst “sports villains” of all-time, even though no one was injured or harmed by his actions.

This is really such a bizarre story in which any of the many possible outcomes will be believable at this point. Add this saga to the list of questionable moral and ethical decisions that have come out of college football recently. It’s unfortunately another example of the sports culture we currently reside in – one filled with lies, shortcuts and cheaters.

Some people have come down hard on the media for not fact-checking this initially. The media ran with a good personal story and I can’t fault them for that. From now on reporters will fact-check and get first-hand accounts about player’s relationships if it is the subject of a noteworthy story (like Te’o’s ostensibly was). Before this story though there was no reason to do that. You live and you learn.

Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell posted their email exchange regarding the story and it’s definitely worth a read. Two very smart men can point out a lot of things you did not realize and make you think even if they’re just conversing between themselves, never thinking their correspondence would be published.

If nothing else, this story has been extremely interesting to follow because it is unprecedented. I am anxiously awaiting answers and I’ve been tuned into ESPN’s 24/7 coverage since Wednesday night. How it all plays out is anyone’s guess but in the mean time I’ve also enjoyed Twitter’s snark regarding the hoax and the humor in the situation brought to light by many sports blogs. That should be enough to keep everyone entertained until the complete story comes out.

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