Manti Te'o. The (former) Notre Dame linebacker went through one tough day back in September. His grandmother, who he was very close to, passed away, and then later on he got a call saying his girlfriend had also passed away from leukemia. That's one awful day for anyone. Now go try and play football, or do your job, or whatever almost immediately after finding out that news. That's what Manti Te'o did, and he did it well.
Fast forward to sometime in December. Te'o gets a phone call, apparently from the same number he used to speak to his now-dead girlfriend on. Someone tells him that the girl, Lennay Kekua, is in fact alive.
Um, excuse me what?
Imagine the shock Te'o must have gone through, and the confusion that ensued. According to Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, the ND coaches found out on December 26th. Notre Dame hired a third party to conduct an investigation and they're confident that Te'o had nothing to do with this hoax.
Then, yesterday, before we know what Notre Dame knew, Deadspin came out with the article that shocked the college football world (ah hell, the rest of the world too. BBC has this story on their front page right now, but not on their sports page). I was shocked. One of my die hard Notre Dame fan friends told me he refuses to believe it. There's a million different versions of this story out there. It's bizarre, it's nuts, it's like nothing we've ever seen before. I think the one question we all want answered is...
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED!?!?!?!?!
I have no idea what to think here. I can see both sides of the story, and can connect all the dots to make either outcome true. By either outcome, I mean either Te'o knew all along what was going on and perpetuated the story to gain publicity and notoriety, or that he was completely innocent.
Here's how I can see the first scenario. It's pretty simple...
Manti and this Tuiasosopo character who was mentioned in the Deadspin article came up with the plan to get Manti some more notoriety. He's got a big season coming up at ND, he ends up being second in the Heisman voting, he could be a first round draft pick, etc. Everyone would love Manti Te'o because of what he dealt with throughout the course of the year. So they figured, why not? On the same day his grandmother dies, they'll say his "girlfriend" died too. Unbelievable heartbreak. Unbelievable coincidence, too, but you know what they say: Bad things happen to good people.
So they keep going with this story, go to great lengths to fabricate everything. From pictures, to phone records, everything. And they got us. They got ESPN. They got Sports Illustrated. They got everybody.
Here's how I see the second scenario...
It's still not clear how and when Manti and this "girl" actually met. Was it online, or was it after a football game at Stanford? We don't know. Let's say they "met" online first. They agreed to meet at Stanford where she was a student, maybe even an athlete. Te'o probably did indeed meet a girl at Stanford, they did indeed spend hours upon hours on the phone together, that girl did indeed text Te'o's family to give her condolences on Manti's grandmother passing away. She "died", and her "older brother" called Manti to tell him. Manti was completely fooled by actors.
It would take elaborate planning and whatnot to pull off either scenario. All your bases have to be covered. Having someone who is willing to go to those lengths to pull something like that off is almost unfathomable. Either way, someone is obviously in the wrong here.
If I've learned anything in life, especially lately, it's to not put anything past anyone. If that means keeping an open mind about Te'o maybe, just maybe having something to do with this, then so be it.
I don't know what to believe. I want to believe that the kid was totally fooled, but I just don't know. What I do know, is that I wouldn't have had the press conference that Notre Dame did last night. There just isn't enough fact out there about this story. Yes, I know they outsourced the investigation, vetted Te'o themselves and all that, but what's that worth right now? Not much.
If I were Jack Swarbrick, I would have released a statement, all of two lines long:
"We're aware of the situation involving Manti Te'o. We're continuing our investigation."
People are wondering why Notre Dame is backing Manti so hard. He doesn't play for them anymore, so why associate with him?
They're backing him because he's their guy. He helped bring a lot of notoriety to Notre Dame, helped make them relevant again in the landscape of college football. They're looking out for his future, trying to say to NFL teams that their guy is completely and totally innocent.
They could still do that if what they say they believe ends up being true, but how will they look if it turns out that Manti lied to them?
As another friend mentioned to me, every news organization, not just the sports ones, is probably reminding their reporters and editors about the importance of fact checking, and fact double checking. Pete Thamel, who wrote the Sports Illustrated cover story on Manti Te'o, wrote today that after speaking with Manti for the story, he checked with Stanford about the girl, and they had never heard of her and did not have a record of her graduating. Thamel got around that by just not mentioning anything about Stanford in the article. He's kicking himself today. Give Thamel credit though, for being transparent. It's not like he's the only one who got duped.
I'm sure there's much more about this story to come. It's fascinating. I hope we get the truth someday.
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