Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o wrenched the public’s hearts this past football season after the story of his personal tragedy made headlines: Te’o reportedly suffered the death of both his grandmother and his girlfriend within a matter of hours. He then repaired said wrenched hearts on the field, racking up 12 tackles and leading his team to triumph against Michigan State.
Then the news broke that Te’o’s girlfriend wasn’t a real person, that he never met her, and that the whole drama was all an elaborate hoax. Some accused Te’o of being a part of the scheme in order to garner attention and sympathy, but now it’s being reported that one man was the mastermind behind the whole malicious prank. The story is still under investigation, and Te’o spoke to ABC’s Katie Couric about the affair earlier this week.
While the bizarre truth continues to be uncovered in dribs and drabs, here are a few observations to ponder while making judgments about the whole thing:
— Why would Te’o feel the need to invent such a story? He could hardly have hoped to gain more respect or attention than he already had in droves for being an outstanding athlete. It didn’t win him the Heisman and I don’t think the NFL recruits its players based on their background stories. (If they did, Tim Tebow would be at the top of the list and Ray Lewis not even on it.) Adding a nonexistent girlfriend to the mix, especially in a digital world where nothing remains secret, would be a risk not worth the reward.
— Te’o told his father that he had met the girl he considered his girlfriend, and he admitted to Couric that this was a lie. “What would you do?” Te’o asked her. Sure, lying is wrong and never excusable, but in some situations, it’s understandable. Right after the girlfriend story was exposed as a charade, Te’o released the following statement:
“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online.”
Yes, having an online-exclusive relationship you consider “love” is embarrassing, and it’s encouraging to know that Te’o realized it. Can we cut the guy some slack here, please? Or do we only feel sorry for people when their loved ones die, and not when they are enduring painful scrutiny for a regrettable mistake?
— It’s the media’s fault. Kind of. What do they love more than an emotional sob story, especially when it involves the ethnically diverse? Had Te’o’s hardships not been sensationalized to the degree of national mania, I am almost certain he would have pulled the reins sooner, thus avoiding the compromising situation in which he now finds himself.
— Te’o is young, cute, poised for gridiron greatness. The relationship was fake, but the girl is not. There is a real girl behind that face he “fell in love” with, and she’s been speaking out. What are you waiting for, Manti?