It’s incredibly difficult for me to believe that a grown man would spend almost three years of his life referring to a woman whose face he’d never seen, other than in pictures, as his girlfriend. However, the people with whom I associate and know best are well-educated. They come from middle-class backgrounds. If they have religious affiliations, they’re nominal at best. Most of my friends are computer savvy, and all of them are cynical. At the very least, they exercise enough critical-thinking to avoid internet scams and, for the most part, the scrupulous schemes of others.

They’re not 22-year-old Mormons. They didn’t grow up in Hawaii. They didn’t attend a private academy where they did well scholastically and excelled at football. They weren’t recruited by more than 30 collegiate programs, and they didn’t attend Notre Dame university on an athletic scholarship. They didn’t win a slew of awards in their senior year, and they certainly didn’t finish second in Heisman Trophy voting. It’s highly unlikely that a tear-stained athletic director ever had to stop a press conference so that he could find enough composure to say, “The thing I am most sad of, sad about is that the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life.”

None of them are Manti Te’o. I’m not Manti Te’o. You’re not Manti Te’o. No one is Manti Te’o, but Manti Te’o.

Manti Te’o’s explanation for Deadspin’s outstanding report, which revealed that the Notre Dame linebacker’s purportedly dead girlfriend – a story that gripped many in the United States – never actually existed, is simple: He was the victim of a hoax. That the hoax shares a curious similarity to a reality television series on MTV, based on a successful indie movie, is perhaps unfortunate, maybe telling, but it’s his explanation nonetheless.

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. 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.

In a press conference on Wednesday evening, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed that coaches were informed by Te’o and his parents on December 26th that the star player had been victimized by what appeared to be a hoax.

Someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.

Swarbrick, seemingly attempting to prove himself as unfamiliar with reality as possible, claimed that “the people who will be least skeptical of this are the people who live their life in the social media as an important component of it.” He forgot to add, “but not through Skype or other video chat applications.”

In truth, it’s the social media mavens who will be the most difficult to convince. On Twitter and Facebook, questions about the misrepresentation of Te’o’s relationship with the fictional woman that he never met – and yet had no difficulty speaking of her and her family often in interviews – have already led some to assume that not only was he in on the hoax, but that he perpetrated it to perhaps hide his sexuality from his religious family. Another angle suggested that the story was meant to contribute to his status as a Heisman Trophy candidate and a potential early first round pick in the upcoming National Football League draft. The story, prior to today’s revelation, certainly didn’t hurt either of those endeavors.

But to judge and convict him with such unproven motivations in mind only serves to bring us back to assumptions based on our own experiences that don’t match those of Te’o’s. What may seem obvious to us isn’t obvious to all. There’s a sheltering of sorts that takes place in social media. We follow and interact with people of like-minds to the point of imagining our similar mindset and common perspective to be far more widespread than it actually is. In this sense, Te’o’s version of this story may be more believable than any of us actually believe.

At this point, it’s still a complicated and moving narrative, full of discoveries yet to be made. There’s stuff like this, that’s only now coming to the surface:

There are not several facets to this story. There are several stories to this story. One of these is the Notre Dame’s handling of the affair, specifically, not contacting law enforcement authorities after learning of the hoax. Another is of the media’s coverage of the Lennay Kekua story, both before and after a website revealed so many assumed reports to be untrue. And yet another story – the one that we’ve all been most focused on – is Manti Te’o.

The one and only Manti Te’o, at whom it’s been decided it’s best to point fingers of blame. After all, this is what our expression of doubt over Te’o's claims is all about: We don’t want to be made to look foolish by means of a hoodwink. That would be unbelievably embarrassing.

Comments (32)

  1. Crazy story! Love the new blog btw!

  2. Shoulda called Nev from Catfish….

  3. The smugness, petty humour, and not so thinly veiled aura of jealousy – sports journalism at its worst. For showing us once again how far sports media has come in 2013, I guess we do have Manti Te’o to thank.

  4. I was waiting for your thoughts on this story. Absurd storyline. I believe him but I’m old school, and don’t partake in dating on the interwebs. You can never fully trust someone behind a computer screen. Keep up the solid work, always enjoy your posts.

    Cheers, Party on.

  5. I think the reason why so many of us have a hard time believing Te’o's story is that we know how we would behave if we were big-time football stars with women throwing themselves at us constantly. We certainly wouldn’t turn them away for a “virtual girlfriend” who we’d never actually met.

    While I still don’t believe Te’o's story, Dustin has planted a seed of doubt in my mind because I’m not so arrogant to believe that I could put myself in the head of a Hawaiian Mormon with this particular set of circumstances. It’s so far removed from my own life experience that we might as well live on different planets.

    • Yeah, I always think of people stating how they would’ve acted in traumatic situations. “I would’ve saved the guy on the subway tracks.” “I would’ve stopped those guys from beating him up.” And it’s just so impossible to say what you would’ve done without being in that situation. It gets even more murky when you stop to consider how different your own principles and beliefs and background are from the principles and beliefs and background of the person to whom you’re comparing yourself.

      Thanks for the comment, Scott.

  6. All my friends are cynical too.

  7. I agree that the rush to judgment and to propose hypothetical situations that might explain the things about this story that don’t add up are probably coming from people who don’t share enough of Te’o's life experiences to really speak to him and his situation.

    That said, I think that it’s a natural response to a situation where the explanation raises far more questions then it answers. If Te’o is the victim of a hoax, it seems like it’s one that was perpetrated by a friend of his. If this is as straightforward as someone being taken in by a catfish like situation, why do members of Te’o's family think that Te’o met the girl repeatedly? Why are there so many lies out there that really could have only come from Te’o or Te’o's family?

    Obviously I don’t have answers here but I think it’s those questions that people are trying to answer as opposed to trying to figure out how someone could be taken in.

    • If you’re going to take his story at face value, I think that some of those questions are explained by Te’o probably misrepresenting facts about the relationship simply to avoid the embarrassing idea that he had never seen her over three years.

  8. You’ve obviously never met a religious linebacker. Dumb as bricks those guys are.

  9. Came over to the blog just to get your thoughts on the story. Awesome articles as usual – wish you were still writing about baseball though.

  10. Te’o is either the most naive person ever or a dangerous sociopath. That’s what makes this such an intriging story. To believe in good faith that you have a virtual girlfriend for three years would lead to the assumption that you have a serious mental deficiency and, if this were true, then how did you ever end up anywhere near a university? To perpetrate these stories publically to polish your image or hide a darker truth (in the world of football at least) is to be so devious as to border on criminal insanity. Let’s hope we learn more and what do you think this does to his predicted draft position now?

    Great new blog BTW.

    • I don’t think it takes a mental deficiency. It’s just a matter of timing and the person being fooled, and their state of mind. I think that many of us have been in situations where we know something isn’t right, but act as though it is, and might even cover it up by misrepresenting things. It’s really hard to judge without being in the situation ourselves.

      • My point is that if he was fooled then he can’t really have much of a grasp of reality. I just don’t buy that this is the case. I read your post and I am not a Mormon Hawaiian either but there’s got to be more to this. A dead girl friend buys alot of leeway for not asking awkward personal questions of a Heisman candidate and potential first round NFL pick. Of course, I have no idea at all what the truth is but at least this makes more sense to me.

  11. Who was he talking to on the phone all those nights?

  12. sniff sniff sniff.

    I love the way the Notre Dame guy was in tears in his press conference.
    Sorry, but I smell a rat.

  13. I guess his mistress(AKA the rubber doll) must be upset at finding out that he had been cheating on her with an imaginary online girlfriend. At least the rubber doll is real.

    Rat indeed Hitman. The Catholics like to hide bad things or make them go away.

  14. I think the thing that makes this story most believable for me is that Te’o told Notre Dame about this a month before it was leaked to the media. If he was in on the hoax, why would he admit to it without any media pressure to do so?

    • because it’s going to come out during the lead up to the draft anyway

  15. So you are dating a girl that is dying from cancer. I think I might find the time to go visit her.

  16. It’s Keyser Söze!!!

  17. Am I the only one that thinks this is hilarious?

  18. It’s hard for me to put myself in his shoes because of how different I am from him, but man how does this stuff happen? I mean I’m no player with the ladies but it just amazes me how this whole thing came aboot. It’s just so ridiculous that because of his celebrity status this becomes a national headline and really makes it a bigger deal than it really is. It’s times like these that I wish I wasn’t a young man in this day and age. Excellent post Dustin, keep up the stellar work!

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