“Manti *IS* the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.” –Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick
Conventional wisdom surrounding most major scandals and salacious stories hardens almost instantly. Our gut reaction usually congeals into prevailing sentiment. But on the Manti Te’o Potential Catfish Saga of 2013, a story which deservedly earned Deadspin 2.6 million page views in about 12 hours, many people, including countless self-righteous sports reporters, are still unsure of what the hell is going on here. Team Hoax Victim or Team Hoax Perpetrator?
Notre Dame is standing fervently behind its star linebacker, and Te’o himself told ESPN, “To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”
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When it comes down to it, no matter what additional details come out when Te’o explains further, there are only two options here, and everything else falls under these two umbrellas: Either Te’o is the embarrassed victim of a hoax, or he’s a co-conspirator/part-perpetrator of this hoax. That’s it.
After that, then it’s time to ask “Why?” That’s where it gets tricky. As I see it, there are only three viable public perceptions of Te’o going forward:
1. He’s insanely gullible: If Te’o is the true victim here, and he might be, he’s one of the more gullible famous people you’ll ever hear about. Like, send his signing bonus to a Nigerian Prince kind of gullible. It’s 2013 — had Te’o never heard of Skype? Facetime? Twitpics? Snapchat? Is this dude the “Do you guys know how to post videos to Facebook?” guy from that commercial?
The Deadspin timeline, refuting most of the sports media’s insanely lazy reports, says Te’o likely “met” Lennay Kekua on Twitter in October 2011, and she “died” in September 2012. In this day and age, if you’re the victim of an 11-month hoax in which you’ve never seen your “girlfriend,” that’s on you. Is it sad? Absolutely. Is it embarrassing? Definitely. But does it make you the victim? Sure, but at some point you almost deserve to be a victim.
2. He’s mildly sociopathic: Deadspin’s report quotes a friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the likely Catfisher, saying “he was ‘80 percent sure’ that Manti Te’o was ‘in on it,’ and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind.” If Te’o helped perpetrate the hoax with Tuiasosopo, what possible motive could he have had? The lulz? The Heisman campaign? If it’s for “publicity,” if it was for a trophy campaign, that’s unhealthy to say the least. But this seems like the least likely option, even though “there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o together on Tuiasosopo’s now-deleted Instagram account.” Which leads to this possible conclusion …
3. Manti Te’o is gay: There is no evidence to support this. Let me be clear like Obama: I am not calling Manti Te’o a closeted homosexual. But think about the reasons you make up a fake girlfriend, then think about which makes more sense: Boredom, Heisman publicity, or throwing people off the scent of a gay man doing the one thing openly gay men still have never done to this day?
A devout Mormon at a Catholic school, a rugged football player — these are communities that openly reject homosexuality, some of the last remaining vestiges of the decaying closet. There has never been an openly gay athlete in a major American sport, and who knows when that day will come. For now, athletes are pretty freakin’ scared to be the first, even though there could be big endorsement dollars in it for them. Wild speculation, perhaps, but maybe Te’o is just another in a long line of players who would rather live the straight life and not take the risk than declare his true self to the sports world.
Are there any other possible explanations for this ridiculous story?