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Travis Marmon

Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax amusing, confusing

Where do I even begin with the Manti Te’o story? When the news broke that the Notre Dame linebacker’s dead girlfriend never existed, I essentially spent the next 48 hours laughing. I, as all college football fans should, hate Notre Dame with a passion and find glee in all of their shortcomings. They are consistently hyped as one of the top teams in the nation despite two decades of only minor relevance. They are the only school in the country with a national television deal. Half of their fans only root for them due to the school’s Catholicism. They stubbornly refuse to join a conference, but have decided to play five ACC teams per year starting next season. Negligence during a practice in gale-force winds led to the death of a student in 2010, and the university largely ignored the alleged rape of Lizzy Seeberg by star defensive lineman Prince Shembo, leading to her eventual suicide.

Manti Te’o almost changed that perception. A Hawaiian Mormon linebacker led a stout defense to an undefeated season and an appearance in the BCS National Championship game. He did this after losing his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September, and the combination of his play and this sob story almost earned him the Heisman Trophy.

But this month, I got to laugh at Notre Dame once again, as Alabama annihilated the Fighting Irish in the Championship Game, running all over Te’o and the defense. Then, on Jan. 16, Deadspin broke the story that Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was not a real person. The angle of the story made it look like Te’o was in on the hoax, killing Kekua off on the same day as his grandmother to generate massive publicity.

He had completely fooled the media, who apparently don’t know how to use Google or Nexis and never thought to ask officials at Stanford (where Kekua was said to have gone) if she was really a student there.

When Te’o came out with a statement that he was the victim of an online relationship hoax, it sounded like a desperate attempt to save face. There were too many inconsistencies in the story. Why did he never visit Kekua in the hospital after she was in a car crash and then diagnosed with leukemia? Why did he never use Skype over the course of a three-year relationship? Why was her hospitalization extremely similar to the plot of a “Six Feet Under” episode? Why did Cardinals running back Reagan Maui’a claim to have met her?

After his off-camera interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, as well as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s confession of creating the hoax, however, I’m inclined to believe that Te’o is actually as naïve as he has been portrayed to be.

Online relationships tend to victimize those who lack cynicism or who may be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world around them. A star linebacker at a legendary program is a perfect target in that regard.

Also, while I know nothing about Polynesian Mormon families, I imagine that they do not typically produce speculative, internet-savvy types. We may laugh at somebody giving up on Skype after seeing a “black box” instead of a person, or thinking that somebody breathing over the phone is a ventilator (both things that Te’o claims to have fallen for), but those who have rarely been wrong may be more unsuspecting.

But that would be very sad. I would prefer to believe that Te’o was in on the hoax and is actually that terrible of a human being. Unfortunately for the Notre Dame hater in me, that is looking less and less like the case.

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