Manti Te’o, am I right? That guy.
There are ever-expanding theories and a fake Stanford graduate implicated in his “hoax” of a relationship. In case you haven’t heard it 100 times already, Te’o supposedly lied about the death of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua mid-college football season, cleverly evoking the sympathy of everyone with a human heart. Or else, he actually thought this girlfriend was real. Or maybe, he only really knew her through the Internet and lied about meeting her in person. Well, it’s only getting more confusing. But as the New York Times reports, the main question is this: “Was Te’o a sympathetic victim of a cruel fraud, or a calculating participant in a phony story that had been milked to aid his bid for the Heisman Trophy?
So basically, is he an innocent victim or a super-villain? Perhaps he is a bit of both.
In the case of a high profile athlete, you’d think the press would have figured this out for Te’o before he had to experience the heartbreak of the whole fiasco. I agree with Miles Bennett-Smith’s column, in which he writes that any self-respecting journalists should be kicking themselves for missing this story earlier. But everyone missed it. Even Te’o seemed to miss it. He claims that he genuinely believed in a relationship with Kekua, putting out a statement that says, “This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.”
In the hysteria and confusion surrounding Manti Te’o’s story, the fact of successful Internet relationships seems to be lost. The Internet is a link to the outside world for many who feel misunderstood or even maligned in their own geographical area. For Te’o, it could have been the link to a person who he felt understood him. Meanwhile, my mind moves directly to this comparison: for a queer kid in a conservative town, it can be the link to any understanding at all, and some type of connection. I might have had an Internet girlfriend if I felt devoid of understanding when I was younger. And though I should hope she would be telling the truth about her existence, I’m actually not sure how I’d know if she was. The result of Te’o’s story should not be for Internet relationships to be maligned, but perhaps re-examined.
Of course, Te’o’s story has the extra kooky element of a fake death and very real media coverage surrounding it. The fact that he may have pulled the heartstrings of the nation for a false purpose is awful (though the genuine loss of his grandmother at the same time was truly sad).
I feel sympathy for Te’o and his current predicament. But don’t worry; I still have a healthy distaste for Notre Dame.
Annie is real. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.