Despite interviews with Katie Couric and ESPN, questions about Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend persist
He's convinced both ESPN's Jeremy Schaap and superstar anchor Katie Couric. But I'm still skeptical.
I haven't yet seen information from an interview with Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o that explains how he wasn't part of the massive hoax which convinced the world he had a dead girlfriend who doesn't exist.
That feeling may change when I see Couric's full interview with Te'o airing at 3 p.m. today on WFTS-Ch. 28 in Tampa (seea preview here). Couric, who shares the same publicist s Te'o, reportedly beat out Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey for the first fully televised interview with the star, who insists he was not complicit in spreading the story which brought him fame in the world of college sports.
But I'm not sure the interviews I've seen so far really ask the right questions.
Schaap in particular seemed to breeze by the most damning parts of Te'o's story. If you believe the player's accounts, someone pretended to be a woman named Lennay Kekua for months, calling him, praying with him by telephone and communicating by text and Twitter as well. He told Schaap she lived in Hawaii, but when Te'o was there with his family, she kept making excuses not to see him.
She asked for his checking account number to give him money, but he never gave the information out. When they tried to talk via the iPhone's Facetime video chat app, "Lennay" said she could see Te'o but mysteriously he couldn't see her (why not try Skype?).
He told Sports Illustrated in September she was in the hospital for two months, having discovered she had leukemia after a car accident, and they cried about her tribulations in treatment together over the phone. But he never went to visit her. Not once.
And when she died suddenly and unexpectedly -- hours after to talking to him on the telephone -- he sent flowers to her address, but didn't go to her funeral or make any effort to see her relatives, supposedly because her funeral was on the same day as an important football game.
This is the part which makes little sense to me. The love of your life dies and you don't even try to meet her family in person? Or visit her grave? Or just show up at the address where the flowers went? And his parents don't ask about that, either?
It is dangerous to assume how people should act when faced with tragedy, no doubt. And Te'o may be a sheltered young man outside of his football success. But young people know how easily someone can assume false identities online -- the popularity of MTV's show on fake online romances, Catfish, is proof enough of that -- and spending months romancing someone who never meets you and has mysterious excuses or why you never physically meet them, seems a giant red flag.
Worse, because there was so much competition for an interview with Te'o, he's been handled with kid gloves by interviewers who should be more prosecutorial.
He's admitted to Couric that he lied to the media after discovering Kekua was fake Dec. 6, twenty days before Notre Dame says he fessed up to them (but he told Schaap he wasn't sure she wasn't real after getting a call Dec. 6 from someone admitting Lennay was fake). And the school kept silent weeks longer until Deadspin's story last week unveiled all. Now he implies his lies to the media were a desperate attempt to cover up having been fooled so badly.
But if you were fooled for months by somebody who tried to get your checking account numbers, why wouldn't you tell the police? Why wouldn't you blame that person for possibly damaging a multi-million-dollar football career by making you look like a fool in public? Why would you offer a story which insists the person who fooled you for months did nothing wrong but lie to you?
And why wouldn't you be scared about someone who went to such lengths to fool you? (the man who engineered the hoax, aspiring singer Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, has admitted it according to his lawyer, who spoke with the New York Daily News).
We may never know what actually happened to lead Te'o into telling the world he had a girlfriend who didn't exist. But these interviews seemed destined to raise more questions than they answer.