Crying for Manti Te'o

Two years ago, I called the Notre Dame football program a moral cesspool. Two weeks ago, I wrote a story about the horrible treatment of women who have accused members of the Notre Dame football team of sexual assault, harassment and rape. These strands knotted together Wednesday in a drama that threatens to break the Internet: the incredibly bizarre, but unbelievably true, story of Fighting Irish star Manti Te’o and his fake online girlfriend.
Te’o was a campus icon: the runner-up Heisman trophy winner, and the acknowledged inspirational leader of a team that came within one game of a national championship. He also, as Deadspin.com reported in a brilliant piece of investigative journalism by Tim Burke and Jack Dickey, shared, knowingly or unknowingly, an elaborate lie with major media outlets about a girlfriend, Stanford student Lennay Kekua, who didn’t really exist. In the last six months as Teo’s fame ballooned, America learned about the football star’s soul mate who suffered a terrible car accident and, while hospitalized, discovered that she had leukemia. Lennay, according to Te’o, would stay on the phone with him for eight hours while he slept because hearing him breathe would ease her suffering. In September, she passed away. This tragic relationship was covered in Sports Illustrated, ESPN and even The New York Times. Te’o did interviews where he choked back tears. He spoke of their time together as well as her parents. People raised thousands of dollars in her name for cancer research. Once again, she didn’t exist.
A family friend of Te’o, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, in fact created the fictitious Lennay Kekua. Today I listened to a recording of Te’o onThe Jim Rome Show, his voice quavering as he spoke about “Lennay’s death.” The only conclusion one can draw is that he was either the victim of an insanely elaborate grift whose ingenuity would humble David Mamet, or something stinks in South Bend. Either one believes that for three years, Te’o was content with an online relationship that involved neither Skype nor Facetime and just gilded the lily about their meetings. Or this was a ruse that started before anyone knew or cared who Manti Te’o was and as he grew into a college football superstar, it spun out of control. Te’o issued a statement within hours of the Deadspin report claiming that he was the victim of a hoax. A press conference commanded by Te'o is also forthcoming, which will probably resemble a wildlife special where a gazelle is feasted upon by a pride of lions. Maybe Te’o, a devout Mormon, wanted to find a way to disengage from a campus hook-up culture that allegedly often strays into sexual assault. But if he is hiding facts about his personal life, it’s hard to imagine the press backing off until they find out exactly what they are. If it was a hoax, then Manti Te’o, a man who would fall in love online, have a three-year long-distance relationship and nurse a young woman through leukemia without ever seeing her in person, should be put in a lab and studied for the greater good.
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Yet as with the far more serious previous scandals attached to this storied program, the problem is not just the behavior of students but the moral compass on display by the adults in charge. Within hours of the story breaking online, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference where he backed Te’o to the hilt saying,“Every single thing about this was real to Manti. There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that’s the sad nature of this cruel game.”
Swarbrick revealed that a private outside firm had been hired to investigate just who had perpetrated this “cruel game.” The athletic director even cried. His behavior only raises more important questions than anything Te’o will face tomorrow. Why hasn’t there been any kind of privately funded, outside investigation into the alleged sexual assaults committed by members of the football team? Why was there no private, outside investigation into Coach Brian Kelly’s role in the death of team videographer Declan Sullivan? It says so much that Te’o’s bizarre soap opera has moved Swarbrick to openly weeping but he hasn’t spared one tear, let alone held one press conference, for Lizzy Seeberg, the young woman who took her own life after coming forward with allegations that a member of the team sexually assaulted her. Swarbrick’s press conference displayed that the problem at Notre Dame is not just football players without a compass; it’s the adults without a conscience. Their credo isn’t any kind of desire for truth or justice. Instead it seems to be little more than a constant effort to protect the Fighting Irish brand, no matter who gets hurt.

4 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Stink? Absolutely! But Grift? Open your eyes, people!

Every LGBT person who is following this story has already drawn yet another conclusion: The young man is gay. We instantly recognize the Mamet-like ingenuity that it takes to stay in the closet, especially if one's star were to rise in a traditionally homophobic football culture at a high-profile Catholic University. He's probably made up lots of girlfriends during his football career. First it was to keep from getting his ass beaten (or worse), then
to get into ND, and so on...

Now, his increasingly elaborate lie has indeed spiraled out of control. Has Notre Dame taken an interest in spinning the story in order to preserve the macho (hetero) rep of its stumbling football program? Clearly Te'o was off his game in the National Championship, and the team sank with its preoccupied captain.

He should definitely review the tape...not of the game, but of his interviews and tv work. If he doesn't get real with himself soon, Te'o may miss his true calling as an actor.

What a mockery

From what I read(which is mainly speculation) ND knew about the hoax on Dec.26, and yet T'eo is still giving false testimony after the 26th and ND says nothing. This is all in the interest of diverting attention from the BCS championship game. If true, I understand it, but ND is wrong. They should have called a press conference asap on the 26th to clear the air if possible. Instead they pull a hybrid Lance Armstrong. Is T'eo a victim or a co-conspirator? What a mess. Getting a new AD for ND would be a good start.

Consider too...

The mass media culture of sports is so oppressive, I see this guy possibly lying to A) not become involved with the party culture at a Catholic school like ND (*sarcasm* because Catholics are notorious for their sobriety, right?) B) not have people interfere with his personal life (in which case it snowballed) or C) he's telling the truth. Either way, sports culture in this country needs to have a moment of clarity so we stop worshipping and recover/develop an appreciation for when performance, ability and situation all come together to create a spectacle, something to cheer for. one more shovelful for our 'national game' digging its own grave.

At Lest This Notre Lame Team Did Something Useful

Which was remind us why college football needs a playoff. They had no business being in the national championship game, and wouldn't have if there was a playoff.

Anyway, death to Notre Lame Football.

4 Reader Comments | Add a comment

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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