The inspirational story of the college football season was a fraud. Manti Te’o didn’t have a girlfriend who died just before the Michigan State game. He didn’t have a girlfriend at all. Lennay Kekua didn’t exist, she didn’t have cancer, she didn’t like roses, she didn’t whisper “I love you” as her final words to Manti. Strangely though, the other half of the story, the death of his grandmother on the same day, was true. Lennay Kekua was a fake internet personality, and like a bad MTV show convinced Te’o that she was real, that she loved him, and that he should love her back. She then convinced Te’o that she was cancer ridden, and then that she had died. All of this while being the male cousin of a former NFL player, named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who apparently is a friend of Te’o. Once they received the tip, Deadspin did a great job of uncovering the lies behind the story that several more reputable news organizations had simply taken as fact, but they left the most important question unanswered.
Is Manti Te’o a victim of internet fraud, a poor romantic that fell for a story and didn’t question enough failed meetings and strange behavior? Or, what might be more likely, did Te’o dupe the nation into thinking he had a girlfriend that died of cancer? Would heroic efforts after the death of your grandmother for a guy who was inordinately close to his family not resonate as well with Heisman voters? Why throw the girlfriend on top of that? Why lie to your parents, to your teammates and coach? Why then call Notre Dame on December 26th, before the story came out, and admit you got fooled and the girlfriend is a fake?
The more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps Te’o is telling the truth. Maybe this guy is a Peyton Manning-like figure. A football genius without the simplest of social skills. Maybe Tuiasosopo, disappointed by his own football career, took joy in tricking Te’o, taking his jealousy out on the gullible star? Perhaps several other people were involved, a woman who spoke to Te’o over the phone at nights, and another man who called to inform Te’o of the death? Or Te’o is one of the most despicable people on the planet. But I just can’t answer one question. What was in it for him? Draft status is based on play, not emotional stories. Notre Dame made money off this story, not Manti.
Either way, this story has to hurt Te’o in the draft. If he is blameless, he has proven to be the perfect target for exactly the type of conmen who prey on young, wealthy NFL players. If he is guilty, he is borderline evil, and has to have more than one screw loose. If Te’o did think he was going to make a lot of money with this story, Deadspin made sure he wouldn’t. And once again, we were all shown why, perhaps, you can’t trust anyone.