Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Full Manti

This post was supposed to be about the NFL Playoffs (remember them?). It was going to be an eloquent piece about how I went into the playoffs rooting for Peyton Manning but then got invited to the Ray Lewis Retirement party; how I was sure that Green Bay was going to the Super Bowl but then I thought a New England - San Francisco game would be amazing (except that my wife doesn't want Jim Harbaugh anywhere near SB XLVII and neither do I).

But then Wednesday afternoon happened. Deadspin went hogwild on the Manti Te'o girlfriend-died-of-leukemia-and-I'm-playing-for-her story and tore it to shreds. By about 6pm on Wednesday, every major magazine/newspaper/website had the story and twitter had been Te'o-ed.

Here are a few of the happy people at 6:30pm on Wednesday: Notre Dame haters (let's talk about Manti Te'o and Notre Dame!) and Lance Armstrong (please talk about Mani Te'o and Notre Dame!)

Here are a few of the unhappy people at 6:30pm on Wednesday: Manti Te'o (for obvious reasons), Notre Dame (again, obvious reasons), Notre Dame fans (do I really have to say it again?), President Obama (wait, what about my gun regulations?), Oprah Winfrey (wait, what about my interview with Lance Armstrong?).

But it was too late. The Deadspin Te'o story, as extraordinary and unbelievable as it was, had become an avalanche.

The story about Te'o's girlfriend was that he met her last year during the Notre Dame-Stanford game, they began an online/over the phone relationship, she was hit by a car, no she had leukemia, no she was hit by a car and then in the hospital the doctors discovered she had leukemia, Te'o would spend hours with her on the phone while she was in the hospital, but then she succumbed and passed away in September, around the same time he found out his grandmother had passed away (nobody really sure which came first - as Deadspin points out, conflicting reports here). The grandmother part of the story is true. The girlfriend part - all of it - is false. She never existed.

The way Notre Dame and Te'o spin it, he was the victim of a malicious hoax, a kind of catfish, which apparently is now a term. I honestly don't know if I used it correctly.

Notre Dame released a statement saying it had found out Te'o's girlfriend never existed on Dec. 26, that the linebacker was the victim of a hoax, but that it was his story to tell, not the school's. Te'o claimed that he never actually met this girl (whose name was Lennay Kekua), that their relationship was over the phone and online. Te'o's parents stated in September that Kekua had visited Te'o in Hawaii on occasion, but perhaps she never actually showed up to any of their rendezvous.

According to the various media reports, Te'o and Kekua met after the Notre Dame-Stanford game in November of 2009 and exchanged digits. They were friends for a few years, she would travel to Hawaii to visit him from time to time, and then in early 2012 they became a couple. She was then involved in a car crash...at some point (as Deadspin points out, conflicting reports here), diagnosed with leukemia and passed away in September. But Deadspin also puts a pin in that bubble, showing how Te'o and Kekua actually met over twitter in October of 2011 and became a couple in January 2012.

Ok so let's say that Te'o, in fact, never met Kekua. Let's say that he saw some girl after the ND-Stanford game, he was attracted to her but he never actually got a chance to speak to her, and somehow they connected when he was back in South Bend and they became close friends and eventually a couple. Let's say he met some girl over twitter in October of 2011, they exchanged email address/phone numbers and then became close friends and eventually a couple.

Either way, online/phone relationships do happen. I should know, because that's how I fell in love with my (now) wife. We knew of each other, but had never actually met, when I was in San Francisco and she was in DC. We struck up a conversation over AIM (remember that? me either.), which then progressed to phone conversations, which then progressed to meeting each other, which then progressed to now. I was lucky though - my wife actually exists.

But one issue (of many) is that two and a half years is a long time to go without ever meeting, especially when your dad is telling reporters that Te'o and Kekua met at various times in Hawaii. Wouldn't you have told your dad if you had been stood up by this person that you are apparently so close to?

There are so many issues and just not enough time. Just search "Manti Te'o" or #MantiTeo on twitter and you'll get all the questions you desire, and some you'd probably rather have never seen. But one issue I would like to mention is the fact that Notre Dame sat on this story for almost a month. I understand that the school felt it was Te'o's story to tell, but shouldn't they have advised him to stay in front of the story?

My suggestion would have been for Notre Dame to put out a short release, maybe a paragraph long, that says something to the effect of: "It has come to our attention that Manti Te'o was the victim of an awful hoax regarding his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. We believe that someone played a cruel joke on Manti by creating and then pretending to be Lennay. Notre Dame is investigating the matter." You then release the story on Monday, Jan. 7, at about 3pm. Oh, is that the day of the BCS Championship? Never even occurred to me. (In fact, Notre Dame put out basically that release, but only after the Deadspin article came out.)

Had the school put out a statement on the day of the championship, the story would have had about five hours to go around the interwebs. Once the game starts, doesn't that become the story? If Notre Dame wins, Te'o can simply say, "yes I was the victim of a hoax, it's very sad that people feel the need to do things like this, but right now I'm just thinking about my teammates, coaches and fans." If Notre Dame loses, Te'o can simply say, "yes I was the victim of a hoax, it's very sad that people feel the need to do things like this, but right now I'm just thinking about my teammates, coaches and fans." (In fact, that's basically what Te'o said in response to the Deadspin article.)

Te'o might very well be innocent in all of this. Perhaps he really is the victim of an awful hoax that went on for almost three years. According to the Deadspin article, the man behind the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, also played the same practical joke on other people before going after Te'o. But with so many inconsistencies in Te'o's story, many feel that he was involved somehow. But then the issue becomes motive - why would he do that? The theory goes that Te'o wanted to get himself more publicity, wanted to be placed among the pantheon of former Notre Dame football players, but is that enough of a reason to continually lie about a fake girlfriend? Did he want the Heisman Trophy that badly that he thought having a fake dead girlfriend would help him win? Was he so embarrassed that he had never actually met his girlfriend that he kept going with the story to save face?

Unfortunately, I'm sure we'll never find out the real story. Te'o is reportedly going to be interviewed by ESPN, but we probably won't find out the truth, the hoax truth and nothing but the truth until he goes on Oprah. Hey look, she's smiling again!

IN CLOSING
Not to make the story about me, but I would like to point out that I beat professional funny man Michael Schur to a joke. You may have seen his name in such shows as Saturday Night Live, The Office and Parks and Recreation.

Here's my tweet, posted at 4:59pm ET.



Here's his tweet, posted at 5:55pm ET.



ALMOST ONE HOUR DIFFERENCE.

That means I win. And I don't want to hear the whole, "he has 61,608 followers, you have 40" spin. Seriously, I don't want to hear it. Please stop pointing it out. It makes me sad.

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