I’ve often thought that anything you read, including my own writing, is accompanied with a disclaimer – since you can’t feel, touch, taste or smell this; be cynical with your other sense – sight. Manti Te’o Notre Dame’s excellent linebacker and runner-up to college football’s greatest individual honor, the Heisman Trophy, either over-trusted his sense of sight or took advantage or everyone’s else’s failure to do so. For three years, Te’o had an online relationship with a woman who doesn’t exist, at least the form he presented to the world, named Lennay Kekua.
This is a complicated story involving Twitter, friends of friends, college aged people, and the National Enquirer of the sports world, Deadspin.com. So, let’s walk through the facts then pile on the snark and cynicism.
Before Notre Dame played Michigan State, September 12, 2012, 21-year-old Manti Te’o tells media outlets that within hours of each other, his 72-year-old grandmother and 22-year-old Stanford University girlfriend died. The grandmother was real, the girlfriend was not. Lennay Kekua is this generation’s George Glass.
After leading his team to victory, Manti Te’o became a national phenomenon. By the end of the college football season he had gone from being considered a good player for the Fighting Irish team to the runner-up for the Heisman and a sure-shot first round draft pick in the NFL. But before we get cynical about his too good to be true story, let’s look at what Deadspin.com dug up and the questions that need to answered.
According to Deadspin and twitter accounts, a friend of Te’o's, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, is the prime suspect is creating the Catfish is Lennay Kekua. On December 26th, Te’o says he received a phone call from a number that he thought was Lennay’s. It was someone else, not yet identified, saying she was alive, well, and not Lennay is any way. He told his team, and Notre Dame held a press conference portraying Te’o as a victim. Deadspin.com says some of Te’o victimization is as fake as his girlfriend. For one, the only person who “knew” Lennay Kekua, in terms of the pictures provided on her twitter and Facebook accounts, was Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Friends and family members of Tuiasosopo have said he’s used the Lennay accounts to dupe others. Te’o's family has provided quotes about Te’o meeting Lennay Kekua and carrying on a real relationship. So either Manti Te’o is the most gullible badass football player, ever, or he was complicit with Tuiasosopo and his family for publicity purposes.
Weird story huh? Hold on, it gets crazy weird, now. Arizona Cardinals fullback, Reagan Maui’a has stepped forward to say he knows a Lennay Kekua in Samoa. He describes a platonic relationship with her as a shoulder to cry on when she lost her father last year. Wow, that’s a lot of dead people and conflicting stories for someone so fake. If this girl is real, she’s like a witch or something, you know, in a good way.
The sports media: ESPN, Deadspin, Yahoo sports, are losing their collective lazy minds. For four months they bought and sold the story of a grieving good guy in green and gold who was using his heavy heart to hamemr opponents into submission. Did Manti Te’o use real grief of a fake person to beat up his competition? Did his knowledge of the lie turn him into a fake football player in the Bowl Championship game where his ghost girlfriend played better than he did? Here’s a better question. Why didn’t the reporters following him call Stanford and find out who Lennay Kekua really was? Deadspin did that yesterday. Where was that journalism in September? I guess from now on, we should ask for a death certificate everytime a sports human interest story tries to take tears from our eyes.
MTV’s Catfish The TV Show is a hit because it exposes the damaged psyche of many Americans, especially younger ones the age of Manti Te’o. Even more sinister, is the gross cynicism that stalks the internet like phony panther. I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for this either gullible galoot or lying loser. Manti Te’o'll make millions on the NFL soon. Professional football teams don’t care if their linebacker is a liar or a lunkhead if he makes tackles. As a Jets and Falcons fan, I’d take him in a heartbeat, fake girlfriend or not. But the fact anyone would do this for publicity is where we are in this coarse culture. For the sake of us all, I hope Manti Te’o is just a dumb ass, not an actual ass.