Thursday, January 17, 2013

Manti Te'o: a Victim or a Fraud?

The inspirational, heartfelt story of the 2012-2013 NCAA football season has turned into the most bizarre sports hoax in recent memory. I'm sure you've all heard of the supposed love affair between Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and a woman named Lennay Kekua who allegedly passed away on September 11, 2012, just hours after Te'o lost his grandmother (although we now know that is not true). It turns out this Lennay Kekua never existed in the first place, and contrary to previous reports that date back as far as 2009, Te'o never physically met the woman in person. Seems pretty strange, huh?

I'm not writing this piece to accuse Te'o of fabricating the story, but simply to point out some major inconsistencies and eventually figure out what really transpired.

According to an article published by the South Bend Tribune, Te'o and Kekua met face-to-face after the Notre Dame-Stanford game on November 28, 2009. "Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes." The two co-eds reportedly exchanged numbers after the encounter and remained in touch. To my understanding, Te'o's father, Brian, was the source of this report, but I'm not entirely sure who provided the Tribune with those details. If I had the opportunity, I would ask Manti why he didn't correct these fallacies in future interviews if he indeed never met Kekua in person? 

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed by Brian Te'o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick that Manti never met the so-called "love of his life" in person. Ironically, back in October 2012, Brian Te'o told the South Bend Tribune, "Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there." So wait, Te'o has actually met this girl before? I'm confused.

To those who do not understand why Te'o would be involved in such a hoax, I will explain. With that said, not all the facts have come out and I am not trying to implicate Te'o as guilty, but just hear me out.

Manti Te'o gained a tremendous amount of national recognition directly because of this story. I first heard of Manti Te'o because of the adversity he faced after losing his grandmother and girlfriend approximately six hours apart (thanks to Peter Thamel of Sports Illustrated), not because of his on-field performance. After Thamel brought Manti's situation to light, the national media picked up the story and ran with it. Te'o was interviewed by reporters like CBS 2 Chicago's Kate Sullivan as well as ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski for a College GameDay piece and soon after Te'o's story had captured the hearts of people all around the world.

If we look at these 2012-2013 preseason Heisman Trophy rankings, Te'o wasn't even ranked in the top 25. Here's Yahoo Sports' Heisman ratings after the first two weeks of the season. Ironically, Te'o didn't emerge as a Heisman candidate until after the Michigan game, which took place after his story had been reported by almost all of the primary sports media outlets. (Notice how Te'o's description in the previous link focuses on his inspirational story as he emerges at No.10 on the list.) The incentive to become involved in such a hoax can be evidenced by the fact that Te'o went from being relatively unrecognized (on a national scale) to the cover of Sports Illustrated's October issue in a matter of a month.

Don't get me wrong Te'o played some outstanding football during September, but the source behind his Heisman candidacy stemmed from his inspirational story and not necessarily his performance on the field. Considering I don't know all of the facts, I'm not too sure what to believe at this point, but to say that Te'o had nothing to gain from fabricating a fable like this is simply ignorant. 

The thing that doesn't make sense to me is why someone would dedicate years of their life to troll Manti Te'o and pretend to be his girlfriend (or create a false identity and pose as Te'o's mate). It just doesn't add up at this point. 

With that said, there are additional details that have yet to come out and I recommend we reserve our judgements until all the facts have been presented.

P.S. The happiest person on the planet right now has got to be Lance Armstrong.

In regards to the false reporting of this story, fact checking is an essential part of journalism (regardless of how emotional the circumstances are) and should be consistently practiced by every journalist around the globe, especially major media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated. 

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