Sunday, April 22, 2018
Colleges

Little adds up in Manti Te'o hoax

I want to believe. Even now, even in the middle of the most bizarre story in years, I want to believe.

I want to believe in character. I want to believe in inspiration. I want to believe the player in question was the victim, not the villain, in this strange, sordid mess of the fabricated girlfriend.

I want to believe in Manti Te'o.

Frankly, I'm struggling.

There has never been a fable such as this one, a touching mixture of linebackers and love, of lies and loss. Why, Te'o was the Notre Dame star who was driven by the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend, a wounded soul who endured his pain to lead his team to a turnaround season. It was one of those heart-tugging tales that makes us watch sports.

As it turns out, however, much of the story was somebody's fiction. As reported by Deadspin, his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed. Someone made her up. Someone lied to someone else. Either someone duped Te'o, or Te'o duped everyone else.

You decide.

Perhaps, you too wish to believe in Te'o. It's easier to believe in talent. It's easier to believe in production. It's easier to believe the sad story of a player who entertained you on Saturdays.

There are difficulties, of course.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe that he knew Kekua for three years, and that he eventually fell in love with her, even though they never met, not even in November 2011, when Notre Dame played at Stanford, where she was supposedly a student (that was a lie, too).

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe that they talked nightly on the telephone but neither of them used Skype or FaceTime, the favorite apps of long-distance affairs these days. If they had, Te'o would have noticed that the woman on the other end of the phone didn't have a face to match the "borrowed'' Facebook picture that was lifted from another profile.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe that the love of his life was fighting leukemia and yet he never went to her bedside.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe he never sent her flowers at the hospital, which would have informed him that it had no such patient, or that he never tried to call her hospital room.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe that when he sent flowers to her funeral, the florist never called him to tell him that he could not find such a funeral. One never existed, remember?

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe the Notre Dame explanation that he only met Kekua online, not Te'o's own explanation that they met when "she saw him'' at a game in 2009. Or the words of the father of Te'o, who said the two had met in Hawaii.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe someone concocted an elaborate, cruel farce that lasted for years. You have to believe the scam included a woman who was willing to give up every night to be on the phone with Te'o to advance the plot.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe that the perpetrators of the hoax continued although they never asked for money or sought any sort of financial gain.

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe he was the most trusting, innocent soul on the planet. Think of it like this: If you met someone interesting on the Internet, how many times would someone fail to meet you before you felt you were being played?

To believe in Te'o, you have to believe that none of this was about the Heisman Trophy.

That's one theory out there, that Te'o was trying to heighten his profile. Certainly, he wasn't among the Heisman preseason favorites. Sports Illustrated had a list of 12 candidates before the season, and Te'o wasn't on it. But after he made a dozen tackles against Michigan State days after Kekua supposedly died, everyone knew his name.

According to an article by Tyler Moorehead, a Notre Dame student, there was conversation among Notre Dame players who thought Te'o had embellished his relationship.

"They recognized what was going on for what it was — a terrible publicity stunt used to fuel Te'o's Heisman campaign,'' wrote Moorehead.

To believe in Te'o, you have to sort out why he waited three weeks to tell Notre Dame after he received a call from the cell phone of his supposedly dead girlfriend.

To believe in Te'o, you have to figure out why he kept answering questions about Kekua during the week leading up to the national championship, well after Notre Dame had begun to investigate the hoax.

To believe in Te'o, you have to disbelieve the Deadspin source who says it is "80 percent'' that Te'o was in on it all along.

In other words, it takes a lot of faith to buy Te'o as a complete victim here. At the very least, he seems to have helped his story along. There are too many questions, not enough answers. If Te'o was a victim, wouldn't he have shown someone his phone records by now? Wouldn't he have printed out some emails?

Soon, others will have to decide whether they can believe in Te'o, too. The NFL scouting combine is approaching, and you can bet that NFL teams will arrive with a whole sackful of pointed questions.

Will this affect the draft status of Te'o? Well, it won't help. And remember this: His best qualities have never been his size or his speed. With Te'o, it has been about leadership and character. If teams question that, yeah, he'll slip, maybe from the middle of the first round to the end.

Who knows? In the end, perhaps the NFL teams decide they want to believe in Te'o, too.

You know, despite every instinct that screams otherwise.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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