The story of Manti Te’o’s fake dead girlfriend is captivating because it’s such a huge part of how and why the general public recognizes him. Yes, he was a talented Notre Dame linebacker. Sure, he was quite clearly the leader of that team’s defense from the beginning of the year all the way to the dreadful conclusion of the Katherine Webb Bowl.
But the reason folks followed Te’o more than they followed your average ultra-talented NFL prospect (i.e. Jadeveon Clowney) is because of the back story.
He was a guy who overcame the death of his grandmother and girlfriend in a short span of time to lead the Fighting Irish to victory. He was a warrior, mentally and physically. We could sympathize with him and admire his ability to persevere.
That is why Deadspin’s report of Te’o’s dead girlfriend never having been his girlfriend, or dying, or existing in the first place was so shocking. It killed part of the reason why this 21-year-old kid became famous in the first place.
Prior to January 16, Te’o permitted the public to believe that he met his girlfriend in Palo Alto a few years ago. You can quibble with whether or not he lied, per se, but he willfully misled – that's beyond debate. In a statement released yesterday, he admitted that the relationship began online. That directly contradicts the original story Palo Alto story.
The question now is, did he lie (or mislead) because he was embarrassed about where he met the girl, or because he was in on the hoax this whole time?
As noted by Larry Brown Sports, Outsports.com (the web’s foremost authority on the lack of any prominent gay athletes) has wondered if maybe this whole ruse was perpetuated by Te’o as a cover. Per Cyd Zeigler Jr.:
I’ve heard from sports writers, fans of Outsports, leaders in the gay-sports world, and even old high school friends, in the last six hours all wondering, “Is Te’o going to be the first openly gay NFL player?” Read for yourself and come to your own conclusion…
… I can certainly understand why people think this might be pointing to his sexual orientation. There has never been a publicly out NFL player. There has never been a publicly out Div. 1 football player. But we know they’re out there. And if they were out there and wanted to hide their sexual orientation — or a relationship with another man — a fictitious girlfriend is a good way to do it. The fantastic story about car accidents and death by leukemia would just be showing off that stereotypical gay flair for the dramatic.
And then there were these tweets from CBS NFL Insider, Mike Freeman:
Theory about why Manti did what he did has reached NFL team circles and if true absolutely explains his actions.— mike freeman (@realfreemancbs) January 17, 2013
If this theory is true, Manti would end up being one of the most important stories in history.— mike freeman (@realfreemancbs) January 17, 2013
If it were revealed that this entire sordid mess is actually just the byproduct of a gay athlete coping with who is in the saddest way imaginable, that is probably the best possible scenario. That or Te’o actually being dumb enough to fall for this hoax. The worst case scenario, obviously, is that he is just a fame-hungry narcissist who allowed the world to think his fake girlfriend died because he liked the attention.
We'll figure out what's what soon enough.