Unless you were disconnected from all media in every possible way last night, you’ve by now heard about the elaborate, Catfish-esque hoax involving Notre Dame star football player Manti Te’o that was unearthed and detailed masterfully by the guys at Deadspin late yesterday afternoon. The short version: a popular, extensively repeated storyline this past college football season was how Te’o led his team to an undefeated season and a berth in the BCS title game following the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend within hours of each other in early September. The Deadspin report charges that the aforementioned girlfriend, a Stanford student named Lennay Kekua, never existed. Her non-existence was later confirmed by Te’o and Notre Dame.
Now, ever since the Deadspin story was published, I’ve spent hours obsessing over it as seemingly the entire internet collectively tried to figure this whole thing out. I simply cannot. It’s now 2am and I’m writing this to publish in the morning. I’ve gone down so many rabbit holes on this that seemed to just lead to other rabbit holes that just led to other rabbit holes. I hoped to have some sort of clear idea of what exactly happened here before going to bed tonight, but the sad truth is that I will not. I simply cannot wrap my brain around this. I’m utterly flummoxed in every way. I’ve thought about this a lot, and it may be the single most mind-bending story I’ve encountered in my lifetime. (If you haven’t read the Deadspin report yet, I implore you to do so now.)
With all of that said, this is what I do know: Manti Te’o is either one of the most diabolical people on earth, or one of the most naive — and that the internet is at the heart of this, either facilitating his duping or facilitating his being busted.
There seem to be two prevailing schools of thought here, the first being that Te’o was a part of the hoax, and that his motivation was to either drum up sympathy for Heisman trophy votes or to conceal sexual preferences that aren’t well-tolerated in football locker rooms and/or at religious institutions like Notre Dame and/or in the Mormon church (Te’o and his family are Mormons).
(A personal aside: in college I had a closeted roommate who created a fake girlfriend, complete with framed pictures hanging on the walls, to hide the fact that he was gay from his friends and family. It was hard for me not to be reminded of that whole episode by the Te’o story.)
The second is that Te’o — because of his young age and strict religious beliefs — doesn’t have a lot of experience with girls and his naivete allowed him to be Catfished spectacularly.
So, like I said, I spent hours last night immersed in a college student’s fake girlfriend, talking to a number of other friends who were equally floored by the WTFness of the damn thing. And then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any weirder, Te’o’s fake girlfriend rose from the dead via her Twitter account…