If you had asked me who or what was Manti Te'o, on Thursday around mid-day, I'd answer- "He's an over-rated LB who just helped UND get their ass kicked in the BCS championship."
But if you asked me that question about four hours later, I'd have a completely different answer...
If you read the story on deadspin.com, you probably reacted like I did...What the what?!?!?
But the more I read and watched as the evening progressed the more bizarre the story got...details trickled out from different articles, and I found videos, quotes and fragments of this effed-up mosaic that only made me want to find more. It's 1:33am as I type...and that's not too abnormal for me, but to be up at this hour and feel like it's mid-afternoon is a result of a curiosity-induced adrenaline rush that I've been riding.
This is a weird story...and here are the facts:
-Te'o hails from Laie, HI...a town of just over 6,000 people.
-He verballed to USC in 2009 before changing his choice to UND before signing day.
-Te'o's Samoan heritage and his Mormon faith made him a story at UND.
-He was a 2-time 2nd team All American, one-time AA, and Heisman trophy runner-up this season.
-Following the final game of his Freshman season, he met Lennay Kekua and became friends with her...later he told people she was the "love of his life."
-Multiple outlets reported about Te'o's bravery as decided to play just days after his Grandma died...AND Kekua died of Leukemia. It was reported that Kekua found out about her illness after a nearly-deadly car accident.
-Te'o stayed in touch with his girlfriend via Twitter, Facebook and cellphone. He told the media that they'd often stay on the phone until they'd fall asleep.
-UND AD, Jack Swarbrick told the media today that they found out that Kekua wasn't a real person just prior to the BCS game. She never was Te'o's girlfriend, she didn't get in a car wreck and didn't die of cancer. Te'o said he was tipped off by a phone call from her number...in the same voice, months after he thought she had died.
But in this interview, Te'o still claimed to have lost his girlfriend to cancer...days after he had already learned she wasn't real (hmmmmmm).
UND investigated the story and found Te'o was a victim of a hoax.
-Swarbrick called Te'o a person cut from a different cloth than most...and said Te'o was an extremely honest person who wore his heart on his sleeve.
-UND's AD also said that Te'o's relationship was SOLELY virtual as they had never met in person...and the stories about them meeting were misunderstandings of the wording Te'o used with his friends and to the media.
Te'o told many that he met Kekua following the loss to Stanford in '09 while on campus...And in this article, Te'o's Dad tells stories of how the couple's first meeting and how they later met in Hawaii multiple times...and that she would soon be their daughter-in-law.
During UND's investigation though, Te'o's story was vastly different from his parent's account or his interviews that followed the tragic week in which Te'o lost his Grandma and the love of his life.
According to UND's account of the story, Manti Te'o had a long-term, serious relationship with a woman that he never really met...and only interacted with via typed word and cell phone calls.
In an age in which nearly every person, especially a college-aged person, has a phone with a camera...these two didn't make video calls. Skype, Google meeting, facetime and other software is readily available...and free to use...but Te'o decided it was OK to not see her while interacting.
Furthermore, if his formal statements are true, he never felt propelled to go see her after her car accident or as she died...OR during the over 1,000 days that they were in a relationship? Keep in mind, UND traveled to both Stanford and USC in subsequent years following the commencement of their relationship...but the schedules never lined up, I guess.
Te'o, an emotional, honest man (according to reports), was in a relationship with the "love of his life" but didn't think it was important to meet her...and wasn't driven to want to look into her eyes or even hug her or smell her perfume in person? That behavior is unlike any college-aged heterosexual male I have ever met, or heard of for that matter...I had friends in college who were devout people of faith and claimed to not be sexually active with their girlfriends...but they still really liked holding their hands, hugging and whatever else in person...but not Te'o- the phone and keyboard interaction was satisfactory.
By all counts, UND's Swarbrick is a smart guy...and he told us all last night that he believes unequivocally that Te'o was a victim in an extremely elaborate hoax that was kept secret for over three years. It hurt him so much that he was brought to tears at one point in the presser. Sad stuff, indeed.
There are a few reports that have come out that say UND teammates thought that Kekua and Te'o's relationship was unusual and a bit questionable...but none of #5's teammates brought it up out of respect to him.
That makes a bit of sense a Senior, I guess...but as a Sophomore or Junior, it makes less sense.
It also seems kinda odd to me that a guy that had a 3.0 GPA, from a school that, I'm told is a pretty good academic institution, could be duped for so long...and so easily. He came from an educated family too...but they didn't see any red flags, I guess.
Sure, the heart clouds the brain at times; who isn't guilty of being a bit illogical for a spell in romantic situations...but his friends, who go to that same school by the way, didn't see anything noteworthy about the Te'o Kekua relationship...nor did his family. In fact, according to their interviews, they loved this bilingual and beautiful person they'd never met.
That in itself seems odd. I come from a pretty traditional, conservative family...and if I ever used the words "love of my life" and my Mom heard them, I'm pretty sure she'd demand to meet this woman...not so, in this case.
If you're still with me, you're clearly a glutton for punishment and can't get enough of this story that is hazier and more befuddling, as you learn more about it.
But the inconsistency that I have the hardest time overlooking is within the anecdotes of Te'o's character. This uber-honest and moral man, at minimum, told quite a few white lies to quite a few people in order to gain their acceptance of the situation. He told these lil' lies to the media...and as a result, his parents were forced to lie as well...but those lies don't count, according to those who accept Te'o's story.
I guess I'm not as wise as the believers...because I have a really hard time trusting the words of a man that can repetitively lie to those closest to him for years. That, at least to me, simply sounds like a liar...someone who's quite adept at not telling the truth.
At the end of the day, it seems quite fitting that an entity built on myths, half-truths and legends would have something like this happen within its walls; it's almost like the PR machine that is Notre Dame's football program enabled this drama.