Have you heard about this whole Manti Teo’o girlfriend hoax scenario?  I caught a couple people talking about it today around the water cooler so this story may have legs after all.  When the story broke yesterday upon reading the headline I knew that the every aspect of the twenty-four hour news cycle would be off and running in a matter of minutes.  Today everyone from ESPN, to CNN, to Access Hollywood has filled their A-Block with the strange tale of the All-American football player and his MTV level drama.  It’s such a compelling story for so many reasons and from so many angles…

The Good

  • All American, face of the program linebacker who uses tragedy to drive himself and the rest of the defense to the national championship game
  • Oh by the way, he plays for Notre Dame – perhaps the most public team in college football - who are in the midst of the program’s most poignant renaissance in twenty-five years.
  • A heartstring tugging, cross country romance with a student from a rival school who he met in a parking lot after a game in 2009.
  • An assumedly beautiful college co-ed meets her demise from leukemia months after surviving a terrible life-threatening car accident.
  • Her passing the same day (or a few days after depending on whose timeline you read) as his grandmother and his not attending the funeral because she had made him promise to play for his team instead.

The  Bad

  • There is no record of a Lennay Kekua attending Stanford, being in a car accident or passing away from leukemia.  Ever.
  • It appears that at the very least Te’o’s family friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was behind creating the Lennay Kekua character and perpetuating a false identity online.
  • Tuiasosopo had used pictures of a friend from high school to represent Kekua and when contacted by Deadspin.com, that friend admitted she had never met or spoken to Te’o.

The Weird

  • Per Jack Swarbrick’s – Notre Dame’s Athletic Director – press conference on Wednesday, Te’o found out that he was the subject of a hoax on December 6th and yet waited twenty days to tell his school/team/coaches yet referenced his girlfriend in a web interview on December 8th and again when speaking to a newspaper on December 11th.  Even if he’s telling the truth and didn’t find out about the hoax until December 6th, why still talk about her and continue the narrative?
  • Why did the school then wait an additional 21 days to say anything about the story, only speaking up after it went viral via Deadspin.com on January 16th?
  • Te’o’s father has made reference to Manti visiting with his girlfriend when she would come to Hawaii and yet the Te’o family had never actually met her.  If Manti was disappearing to go see this girlfriend who was visiting while he was home from school – where exactly was he going and who was he meeting with?
  • In light of what little we know right now about the whole thing, this transcript of Peter Thamel’s interview with Te’o on September 23rd for Sports Illustrated is down right creepy.
  • Who exactly was he talking to on the phone night after night as they slept?
  • Why in the world is this picture still up on his Twitter feed?
  • As a kid in his early twenties, who grew up in this information age that we live in, are we really supposed to believe that he had true feelings for someone he never actually met or spoke to directly?  There’s a reason that internet scams are aimed at the elderly – it’s because everyone under 40 is internet savvy enough that they shouldn’t be falling for this kind of ruse – particularly as a quasi-celebrity in the making living so visibly in the public eye.  I’m sorry but ignorance is not a viable excuse in matters of the internet and love for a twenty-one year old kid.  Love at that age is dumb, but not that dumb.  There’s an Adam Carolla joke in here somewhere about his being Hawaiian may account for his bulb being a bit dimmer than most, but I digress…

The list goes on and on but you get the idea.  There are more loose ends here than in an entire season of “Dallas.”  There are all sorts of websites that I’d recommend you check out that dedicate a lot of thought to this whole scenario such as this, this and my personal favorite this.  I won’t regurgitate all of that for you here but I do want to expound on a theory that I have heard pop up in various conversations, including by a caller during a segment of the Roe Conn Show this afternoon on 890 AM WLS.  Now I want to be very clear that this was not my initial reaction personally so I can’t take credit if it proves to be true over time.  Similarly I really could care less whether this is in fact the actual scenario or not, but the more I give thought to it, the more legs it may have.

What if Manti Te’o is gay?

To be clear once again, I have no proof what-so-ever that there is any credence to this theory at all, but walk with me through this logic and tell me where it stops making sense…

Manti and his family are devout Mormons.  If Matt Stone & Trey Parker’s Book of Mormon taught us anything, it’s that Mormons can’t lie.  The logical progression for a young man coming out of high school of this faith would lead him to Brigham Young University as opposed to the Catholic mecca that is Notre Dame.  Manti has claimed that it was prayer that led him to Notre Dame four years ago but perhaps he was looking to distance himself from other Mormons knowing their religious disapproval of his life choice and his inability to lie to if ever confronted on the subject.  While on the surface one may not think that the Catholics are the place to run to for protection as a homosexual, however I would counter, maybe therein lies the genius?  What other group has successfully hidden more homosexuals than the Catholic church in the past twenty years?  Isn’t Notre Dame perhaps the best place to go if you’re looking for an institution that would cover up any indescretions of their inner circle

In going to the middle of northern Indiana, a Hawaiian can now very easily have a “girlfriend” out west that none of his friends at school would ever have to meet.  One of the biggest holes in this story in my eyes is that Te’o has had roommates & teammates these past few years who have heard him talk about this “love of his life” for three straight years and yet she never came to visit campus or attend a single one of Notre Dame’s games?  There’s no way that anyone close to Manti during the duration of this relationship didn’t think something was fishy here.  Guys in college bust each other’s balls over everything.  If one of my friends had a girlfriend who he only knew online he would have been heckled mercilessly to the point that he would spend every last cent in his bank account to get her on an airplane to prove her hotness – if not her very existence.

So somehow no one seemed to care that this girl was never physically produced by Manti.  If there’s any credence to this theory however, the beauty of it is that he now had a get out of jail free card for every girl in the greater South Bend area.  If seen out at a bar or at a party, every girl who was in the midst of setting their tractor beams on the tan future millionaire in the corner, inevitably had a friend whisper in their ear that, “oh, he has a girlfriend in California,” or more recently, “his girlfriend just passed away,” and thus there’s no chance with him so they should focus their sexual attentions elsewhere for the evening.  I’m sure Tyler Eifert made a killing off of these castoffs. 

There’s no better play if you’re Manti.  Like every kid who ever went to camp or on vacation in their early teens, the hottest girl they ever hooked up with was the one that none of their friends back home could meet.  You’ve seen the movie Easy A right?  That kid at least had a real living girl to backup his story.  Everyone on campus and in the media knew Te’o had a Hollywood tale of a relationship with a girl he met in a parking lot after a game and no one ever thought twice about it.  It just made sense.  He’s the star of Notre Dame football, of course he’s got a sweetheart in California. 

Everything was going well as Te’o and the Irish got off to a hot start this fall until his grandmother got sick and passed away on September 11th.  Perhaps at that point people started questioning whether the girlfriend they’ve heard so much about would be attending the funeral.  In a panic move, perhaps this is where the Hawaiian part of him kicks in, maybe Manti and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (who’s been running the front of the online girlfriend at best, or is Manti’s real lover at worst) decide to kill her off before she would have to appear at her first must-attend family event.  If this is the case then it obviously wasn’t thought through very well (again the Hawaiian) because in today’s day and age the media and general populace are going to pay attention and someone is going to start asking questions.  Unless they don’t. 

For some reason (which Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman get into in the Grantland piece linked to above) everyone took Manti at his word and never thought to doubt or fact-check the matter of him actually having a girlfriend.  In hindsight of course the holes in the story are blinking red lights in the night like an airport runway, but at the time we took him at his word.  He’s a kid, a Mormon, and a star on our television every Saturday afternoon in the fall.  Why should anyone doubt what he has to say?

So that’s the theory that may have some legs.  Do I believe it?  It’s tough to say.  This thing really boils down to who Manti met in that parking lot in Palo Alto, CA in 2009.  He’s on record, as is his father, that that is where and when he physically met this woman.  If he really did meet someone that night then she had to look amazingly similar to the unidentified woman from the Deadspin article whose picture Ronaiah was stealing off the internet and posting as Lennay, or Manti would have known something was up since the first day he saw her Twitter background or Instagram account (assuming he only truly met her once).  If he really was having these nightly phone calls, who was he speaking to?  If someone was visiting him in Hawaii and Manti left his family to see her - but never brought her to meet them - who exactly was he going to meet with? 

Per the Gladwell-Klosterman Grantland piece (which I agree with) there are three possible scenarios here:

  1. Te’o never actually met any girl and solely had an online relationship with what he thought was a pretty young woman named Lennay Kekua who was really Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Manti was in the dark the whole time.
  2. Te’o started the online relationship described above and figured out that it was a hoax but continued the narrative after he figured it out rationalizing that he was too far down the wormhole with it and didn’t want to come clean, taking a beating in the national media and the attention away from the team, so instead just hoped it would go away on its own.
  3. He was in on the hoax from the start and either used it as a beard for another kind of relationship he was having or was doing the whole thing as an incredibly sick and twisted joke on the nation at large.

I have a really hard time believing #1 because it implies that he blatantly lied to the media and his family about this girl that he only knew online.  If you want to have an online relationship that’s up to you but there’s no way you would make it that public, especially under the spotlight he’s lived for the past four years. 

#2 is probably the most plausible in that we’ve all been caught in situations where we’ve gotten duped or told a lie and then found the momentum of the situation too difficult to stop and thus decided to roll with it, telling yourself that it’s not going to end even worse than if you had just come clean as soon as you knew the truth.  This is the infamous, maybe this will all just blow over mentality, and unfortunately it never does.  Still, I can understand his thought process if that were in fact the case.  With that said it still would mean that whole how-we-met story was a lie from the start and it makes the fact that he kept referring to her and her family, as recently as mid-December, kinda weird in that he admittedly was lying in those interviews hoping these calculated little lies would cover up the much bigger hoax that he had hoped he could contain over time.

Finally, option #3 is perhaps the most far-fetched but it also may have the fewest holes.  Maybe Manti and Ronaiah had a relationship that went beyond being family friends.  With Ronaiah posing as a female acquaintance they were able to keep up appearances from a social media standpoint and have extended phone conversations without raising suspicions (Manti’s phone records may be the clue that break this case wide open if every released).  Whose to say it wasn’t Ronaiah visiting him in Hawaii after all?  Maybe when they felt their secret was not going to be a secret much longer they decided to pull the plug on Lennay altogether.

As I said above, it’s all conjecture at this point.  Everyone is waiting to hear Manti’s side of the story.  He’s got a lot of loose ends to tie up before NFL clubs are going to be investing millions of dollars in him.  Just a short month ago Te’o was the best middle linebacker in college football and a sure fire first round pick based upon his leadership, character, and talent (in that order).  One dead girlfriend hoax and an absolutely atrocious performance in the national championship game later, and who knows what the future has in store. 

If Manti Te’o is gay I really couldn’t care less.  As odd as it sounds it would probably be the best PR move he could make at this point.  The story could be spun of a young man not knowing how to handle his sexual orientation in a testosterone fueled sport under the national media’s glare.  He would become a pillar of the gay community and be lauded for his courage in stepping forward.  He would immediately become the face of the movement in athletics perhaps causing numerous other professional athletes to come out in the process.  The day is coming for this to occur, it’s just a matter of time.  Perhaps the leader of it will be one whose mistakes pushed them into the spotlight rather than a conscious decision to step forward.  No one said being the first of anything is easy, often time the first guy over the wall is the one who gets shot, but if this is in fact the case then this is Te’o's window to assume that role whether he’s ready for it or not.  

My hope is that whatever his next step is and whatever explanation he has to give, it’s one of honesty.  More lies aren’t going to get you anywhere with this Manti.  If you got duped, fess up, and if you have something else to share then now is the time to do it.  Gay or straight, pawn or puppetmaster, at this point your audience and I assume your conscience deserve your honesty.  And if you’re name is still on the board when the 20th pick of the second round is on the clock in June, I’d welcome you to man the middle of the Bears defense for the next ten years, made-up girlfriend – or real life boyfriend - and all.