Making Some Sense of the Manti Te’o Hoax

Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o is making headlines off the field as well.

Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is making headlines off the field as well.

Where to begin…

I’ll refrain from going on a long drawn out recap of every detail of the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax simply because most people have already gotten those details and there are way too many to recall. This entire story is like nothing I’ve ever encountered in covering sports. The story was broken yesterday by Deadspin.com and my mind was blown while reading this article. It had so many twists and turns and plot changes that I felt like I was watching an elaborate mystery thriller and not reading a sports article. With that said, I’ve tried now for the last 10 hours or so to make some sort of sense out of this incredible story. I warn you that I myself have not yet reached a state where my mind is not completely blown but I am in a place where I feel ready to write about my sense of confusion, my feelings of skepticism, and my overall level of intrigue.

This is a sports story like we’ve never before seen, and I venture to bet we’ll never see another one quite like it.

So obviously if you’re reading this blog you’ve more than likely come into contact with the phenomenon of social media sites. I myself am particularly intrigued by them and I find interest in finding ways to get the most out of these sites. Our entire lives exist on social media; our pasts, our presents, and our futures. What we did, what we do, and what we will do all exists online if you have fed into the social media beast. Perhaps for some the word beast brings about a negative connotation but let me make it clear, I in now way am saying do not use social media sites. Just as Ray Boyd exists in real life, he also exists on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, SoundCloud, WordPress, Bandcamp, and Instagram. The question is, are any of those Rays, really truly Ray and how would you or anyone else really be able to verify?

This is what Te’o was faced with.

There seem to be two possibilities in this story.

  1. Te’o is the victim of an elaborate hoax. He was approached online by someone who claimed to be Lennay Kekua while in reality there was no such person.
  2. Te’o was a part of an elaborate scheme to further grow his heroic reputation by creating a character that he could essentially use in anyway to his gain by tragically “killing her off” when he so desired to.

When we look at these two possibilities, it seems pretty cut and dry. Either Te’o is a liar or a very gullible guy and soon one of those possibilities will come to light. But it isn’t that simple.

There are so many twists, turns and characters in this story. Just researching it is daunting without extensive note taking. So here are all the plot twists I’ve encountered and perhaps together we can make some sense of this.

Manti Te'o and his supposed girlfriend Lennay Kekua in a report about her death.

Manti Te’o and his supposed girlfriend Lennay Kekua in a report about her death.

Te’o claims he met Kekua online and that there online relationship was the only relationship they ever had. He asserts that they never physically met. There is no reason prior to this to assume he’s lying but there were reports that surfaced to the contrary. Several reports asserted that Te’o and Kekua originally met at a Stanford (the school she supposedly attended) game. There were also reports including statements from Te’o’s father, that the two visited in Hawaii. Also, according to the Deadspin report, Standford has no record of a Lennay Kekua. There is no death certificate or obituary either. So this raises an interesting question. If Te’o was hearing these reports about their supposed Hawaii hangouts and their meeting at a Stanford game, why then did he never clear those reports up so that it was clear to all of us that the relationship only existed online?

Then there’s the Ronaiah Tuiasosopo twist. He was painted out to be a conspirator in all of this in the Deadspin report. Apparently he was the individual who cooked up the Kekua character and who had contacted Te’o online as Kekua. Deadspin cites an unidentified source as the women who’s picture appeared as Kekua on several TV reports about her supposed death. The source claims that she knew Tuiasosopo. There was also speculation that Tuiasosopo and Te’o were close and a relative of Tuiasosopo claimed to be “80%” sure that Te’o knew about the scheme and was in on it for publicity.

The next twist is Arizona Cardinal, Reagan Mauia, who came forward yesterday claiming that Kekua was indeed real and that he met and had phone conversations with her while doing charity work in American Samoa and after. He also claimed that Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu was there as well. Interestingly enough, he claimed that the person who introduced him to Kekua was Tuiasosopo.

Finally, there’s Notre Dame. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick claims that he was informed by Te’o just after Christmas that Te’o received a call from the number he associated with Kekua and that the person informed him that she was Kekua and was alive. Startled by this, Te’o informed ND and they investigated. According to Swarbrick they were informed by an independent investigator on January 4th that Te’o was tricked. They then informed Te’o’s family on the 5th, just two days before the National Championship game. Why then didn’t ND release the findings to the public to get out in front of this story? Perhaps they did not want to distract from the game but it’s been over a week now. Would they or Te’o ever have come forward if this story didn’t break?

A picture of who was believed to be Kekua with a message supposedly sent to Te'o before her "death".

A picture of who was believed to be Kekua with a message supposedly sent to Te’o before her “death”.

It all seems too unreal. If it seems like something out of a movie, that’s because it is. Catfish the movie chronicles a real life occurrence of a hoax like this and has been developed into a similar TV series on MTV. There is apparently a sense of sport in being able to pull off one of these elaborate schemes in a successful manner. In fact, Swarbrick cited the film while addressing the media about this report. So this does happen. Like most things we in society sort of know it happens, but it takes it happening to a celebrity for us to pay attention to it.

Obviously we now wait to hear from Te’o. He did release a statement but that is not enough. Move over Lance, Manti may be making a stop on Oprah’s couch pretty soon. It just seems peculiar to me because it makes me wonder if he could have really been fooled. He’s a football player on ND. He was undoubtedly approached online all the time by fans and probably many beautiful young women. Why would this particular one be able to lie to him so elaborately? It just seems like someone as well-spoken, charismatic, trustworthy and intelligent as Te’o seemed to be would be too smart for this. But, at the same time, maybe Te’o’s trusting nature is exactly what did him in. Maybe he isn’t a skeptical enough individual as sad as that reality is.

Could this affect his draft stock? Yes. He can undoubtedly play football but team’s do not tend to like liars. Drafting him could bring about a Tebow-esqu media frenzy now if all this isn’t cleared up.

I guess the moral of the story is this: Be skeptical of those around you. Never assume that what you read or see on a screen is exactly what it appears to be. For that matter, be skeptical of what people tell you face to face as well. Te’o rode the wave of a heroic tale of a young man who overcame the almost simultaneous deaths of his grandmother and cancer stricken girlfriend to lead his team to victory. He perhaps knew all that was a lie and stood before us all as if it was not. In this social media world we encounter strangers everyday on a number of platforms. The sad truth seems to be that we as a society are closer to one another with social media, but that we may have to grow farther apart from people and allow more skepticism if we want to be safe.

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