In the immediate aftermath of Deadspin’s revelation on Wednesday that Manti Te’o's girlfriend never existed, the response went from shock and disbelief to, almost instantly, Schecky Green. The jokes piled up on Twitter faster than you could type “Lennay Kekua”.
Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal: “Read the piece. Let me get this straight. Notre Dame football was invited to the BCS Championship?”
Greg Auman, St. Petersburg Times: “An anagram search for ‘Manti Te’o GF” produces “A figment”
Myself: “Brent Musburger: ‘Oh, you middle linebackers, you get all the imaginary women.’ Herbie: ‘Wow!’”
Damon Lindelof: “Someone just dropped a coffee mug that says “Kekua” on the bottom.” (a reference to the unforgettable reveal scene in “The Usual Suspects” when we discover who exactly is Keyser Soze.
In fact, we were all Chazz Palminteri, the detective who spends an entire movie getting duped by Kevin Spacey’s Verbil Kint, in this hoax. The farce was hiding in plain sight ever since the Michigan State game, and nobody –not even Deadspin, which only began investigating last Friday thanks to an anonymous tip — in the media questioned it.
Nobody questioned how come Te’o never produced a single photo of himself and Kekua together.
Nobody questioned simply, “When was the last time you two saw one another in person?”
Nobody questioned why, if you Nexis or Google search Kekua, there is no information about her funeral or about her having attended Stanford (that’s because maybe too few people ever did those searches?)
Someone, a non-sports fan, asked me just today, “WHY is this a big story?”
Good question. My answer is that it reflects on every one of us. It’s not just that a hoax was committed or that a lie (series of lies) were told, but it is because before yesterday no one I know in the media or who is a fan of college football even thought to suggest that Lennay Kekua was a charade. And hence, we are all involved. That’s part of it.
The other half is the reveal, when something that could not sound any more absurd is true (What? Verbil Kint does not walk with a limp? Tiger Woods, who’s married to one of the world’s most beautiful women, is a serial adulterer??? But he’s such a “good guy!”). Manti Te’o came across as the most sincere and earnest person we’d seen in college football, if not sport, in some time. Would he really dupe us for months?
Finally, in the 21st century, we all get to be private investigators. We can all go on-line, watch videos, try to suss out the truth ourselves.
And this is where it gets sticky for Notre Dame. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick, a man for whom I have the ultimate respect, is 100% behind Te’o and the story that he is the victim here. But some things –many things –simply do not add up.
If Te’o received a phone call from the same number and the same voice as Lennay Kekua while he was in Orlando, Fla., for ESPN’s awards show (December 6), why did he need three weeks before he spoke to Notre Dame? His parents were with him in New York City for the Heisman ceremony that weekend, and Swarbrick has posited that Te’o wanted to return to Hawaii and discuss the matter with his parents. That doesn’t really add up.
And even if we are to give Te’o and Swarbrick the benefit of the doubt, are we really to believe that Te’o never realized he was misleading the national media by never, NOT ONCE, informing them that he and Kekua had never actually spent real time together in each other’s presence? With all of the stories, and with all of the interviews that he was doing –and talking about someone whom he believed was deceased — he never thought it would be a good idea to add the qualifier, “I should inform you that we never actually met in person.”
Who behaves this way?
Why did Te’o tell ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski that “I see the most beautiful girl that I’ve ever met” when he had never seen Lennay Kekua in person? It is, at best, misleading. Or it is duplicitous.
Concerning that December 6 phone call, if indeed it occurred. Let’s take Teo’s word for it for the time being. Why did the perpetrator of the hoax place that call? They did so for the same reason a serial killer writes a letter to the police or to a newspaper. If you ever read or saw the movie Zodiac, a true story about a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco for years (and was never actually apprehended), you know that the killer had a near-perfect method in which to dispose of his victims. And yet he still toyed with the police and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Why? Because he wanted adulation for what he was “achieving”, as sick as that sounds.
Likewise, whoever inveigled Te’o into believing he had an on-line girlfriend was not simply satisfied with getting away with the crime. Otherwise they would have left him alone after her “death.” Instead, they phoned him back. They wanted more. They wanted to get caught so that the story of the hoax would find a public forum. If a hoax falls in a forest and nobody hears it, did it ever fall?
And so they contacted him. They may have even been the ones to contact Deadspin. After all, they did nothing illegal, just unethical. They’re not just liars, they’re narcissists. Sociopaths.
What do I believe? Full disclosure, I am an alumnus of Notre Dame. And so you may roll your eyes when I say that I do believe that, at least initially, he was duped. But I’m not sure that I’m buying that he only found out about being duped on December 6 and I certainly don’t believe he was forthright with us. For example, if he sent Lennay Kekua white flowers for her funeral, where did he send them? Who told him where to send those and is there a bill? Did someone pick them up?
That’s just one question of many.
The silence on Twitter from Te’o's former Notre Dame teammates today, as regards this issue, has been deafening. That is also intriguing.
We will leave you with this: One of the first stages in growing up, unfortunately, is learning not to accept things at face value. Learning, sadly, not to trust (“Don’t take candy from strangers!”). This is a story in which the media has had to learn, or retrain itself at least, not to trust anything it hears, even if the source has what seems to be unimpeachable integrity. Whether Manti Te’o has had to learn a similar lesson is something that, until he addresses this issue at length, remains up for debate.
Author: John Walters