Te'o girlfriend hoax filled with more questions than answers
I don't know anything.
Let's say that up front. One more time: I don't know anything. That's the lesson of this crazy Manti Te'o story, isn't it? Sometimes you think you know and you don't. Sometimes you think somebody else knows and he doesn't. Sometimes you think he doesn't know either, but he really does. Sometimes you don't even understand this paragraph. Hey, what do you expect from me? I don't know anything.
You have probably heard the heartbreaking story about Teo's girlfriend dying of leukemia during his senior season as a Notre Dame linebacker. And you have probably heard that Deadspin broke the news Wednesday that was also truth-breaking. There was no girlfriend named Lennay Kekua. There was no woman named Lennay Kekua at all. She was a hoax.
The question is: Who got duped?
Well, most of the media, for one. This includes Sports Illustrated -- we put Te'o on our cover in October, and the story includes Te'o talking about his girlfriend dying. I didn't write the story, but I'm going to be honest here and say I could have written the story.
Other media outlets had already written about Te'o's girlfriend dying, and Te'o talked about it ... I mean, we're all supposed to have b.s. detectors in this business, but mine would not have gone off there. Evidently, I'm not alone, because dozens of media outlets mentioned the girlfriend without wondering if she existed. In that situation, a reporter tries to talk to her family, other people who knew her -- you fill in the edges of the story. But if you don't get a hold of those people, would you really think "Hey, this is probably just a hoax, and this girlfriend doesn't exist"? Be honest.
So who else was duped? Deadspin seems fairly confident that Te'o was not duped -- and was, in fact, part of this conspiracy. Notre Dame says that is nonsense.
As Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday night: "I don't want to confuse this at all. Manti Te'o was the victim of this scam."
Swarbrick says Te'o found out in December that Lennay Kekua was not real. And then ... well, here is a transcript from a Jan. 3 press conference before the national championship game:
Q: Manti, how have the football‑related commotion and excitement of the past year helped you get through the turmoil you've faced with your grandmother and girlfriend? And how have the quiet periods been for you, given you more time to reflect? Is that a good thing or double edged?
MANTI TE'O: I think whenever you're in football, it takes your mind off a lot of things. You know, this team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, do you want to go to the movies. Coach is always calling me asking me, "Are you okay? Do you need anything?" I have three roommates, Zeke, Carlo and Robby Toma, who are always yelling at each other, who's going to play Call of Duty. I'm rarely by myself, and that's how I like it. I'm always around my guys, always around my family.
What do we make of that? Technically, Te'o did not lie. But he did tell a lie of omission -- somebody asked him about his dead girlfriend, and he declined to tell the truth: That she did not exist.
This was a pattern for Te'o. Everybody assumed he met her in person, and he certainly indicated that he did. Swarbrick says when Te'o said "met" he included online communication. By that standard, most men in this country have spent time alone with Kate Upton.
Te'o appeared to shave the truth, and that, along with Deadspin's implication, has led many people to assume that Te'o was in on the scam.
Meanwhile, Swarbrick continued to paint Te'o as a hero, saying: "I don't think it was an accident, they understood the more trouble she was in -- car accident, dying of leukemia, failing health -- the more engaged he would become."
Swarbrick says Te'o didn't know. But then you wonder: What if Te'o lied to Swarbrick? What if Te'o made the whole thing up from the beginning?
Me, I think Te'o got duped. I think he did what a lot of young men do: He lied a little bit about his woman. In this case, he let people believe he'd met her in person, when in fact, he had just met her online. He didn't realize his lies would get caught in a web of much bigger lies, and that he would spend a day in January, after the season of his life, as a national punchline.
Notre Dame could have helped him by making this public earlier, but again, would you have done that? Notre Dame folks can say they were still gathering facts at the time, but remember this, too: The Fighting Irish were heading to a national championship game for the first time in a generation.
Do you think this story may have been a bit of a distraction? Do you think, if you were in charge at Notre Dame, that you might have held off for a while and just focused on the fact that Alabama was much, much better than you?
So that is what I think happened. I think Te'o got duped by some twisted people. And if I've convinced you, then that's a shame. I tried to tell you: I don't know anything.