No matter if you heard the story of Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend yesterday when Deadspin.com broke the story, or on Twitter a few moments later or when you saw the crawl on ESPN and realized you couldn’t figure out what they were talking about (err, writing about) I think we all had the same basic reaction… “Wait, what?!” The story made no sense, makes no sense. Listening to sports radio guys try to discuss it today has been quite funny because no one seems to know what to say. One guy on ESPN’s Mike & Mike show put it best (and I am paraphrasing here) you either have to believe the unbelievable story that a high profile college football player would make up a dead girlfriend for publicity or the equally incomprehensible idea that a senior at Notre Dame could get this thoroughly duped. Neither work and that has been the problem, and then it occurred to me, why does it have to be either or?
If you want to see my best guess at the real story, read on…
Using roughly the same time outline Deadspin.com used here is what I think happened:
Sometime in 2010: Manti is trolling around online, probably on Twitter although that hardly matters, and meets someone in cyberspace claiming to be Kekuna. Over the following months or years Manti discovers that Kekuna and he have a lot in common and become good friends.
Sometime in 2011: Manti and Kekuna’s online relationship begins to feel like something more and an excited young Manti tells his parents about his new girlfriend. Only problem is his parents wouldn’t get that his girlfriend is someone he interacts with entirely online* so Manti throws in a white lie or two to make it seem more real for his parents, like that he and Kekuna have hung out in Hawaii a few times.
*It is easy to act like Manti is odd or pathetic for having an entirely online relationship but let’s be honest, they are happening all the time. Heck, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made a Rom-Com about an online relationship almost 20 years ago.
Sometime in 2012: Maybe Manti is pushing to meet Kekuna or maybe he is drifting away, either way “Kekuna” needs to do something to change the dynamic of their relationship so she gets in a car accident. The car accident isn’t enough (or, more likely, it made Manti more insistent about coming out to see her) so the car accident turns into Leukemia**.
**I must say the Leukemia diagnosis is a stroke of evil genius. My wife’s friend has been battling the disease for the last year or so and it is perfect if you are a fake person who wants to keep a relationship going. Why? Because you have to be under near quarantine throughout the process, so your online suitor can’t come see you. And Leukemia has a reasonably high rate of recovery, so you wont loose the person to the “what’s the point they are dying anyway” mentality. But, because Leukemia is cancer you can it provides a perfect end for the relationship whenever you need it, the transplant didn’t take, there were complications, whatever. Like I said, evil, but perfect.
September 2012: For any of a number of potential reasons (Manti was getting too close, Manti was starting to catch on, the whole thing wasn’t fun anymore, etc.) Kekuna decides to use her out and die of Leukemia.
September 11, 2012: Te’o’s grandmother dies and his girlfriend dies. As if that date isn’t bad enough.
Sometime After September 11th and Before September 15th: Manti tells coaches and/or friends about his tragedies. He decides that his two loved one’s would want him to play*** and the team rallies around him. One problem though, it is the same problem he had a year ago with his folks, if the team finds out that he never met the love of his life what will they think? So, Manti does what he did and likely has been doing, with his parents, he goes for the little white lies that will get people to not question his real grief.
***Again, a certain degree of evil genius by Kekuna. Tell Manti while you are dying that he should honor you by playing. Like I said, Evil, but genius.
September 15, 2012: Te’o plays the game of his life as Notre Dame upsets Michigan State. Someone knows that the team was inspired by Manti’s tragedies so Manti shares his story with the media and runs into the same problem again. No matter, white lies work and who is going to question a grieving boyfriend.
Between September 15th and September 22nd: The story starts ballooning and the questions start rolling in. The white lies are becoming legend and Manti sees no harm in it. Someone asks him about Kekuna’s funeral, he says she wants him to play and that all she wanted was flowers. Beautiful, touching and maybe even true (I could totally see Kekuna writing something like that too him to keep him away so he would never discover the hoax).
September 22, 2012: While Kekuna’s funeral is happening in California Manti is becoming a folk hero with another monster game against Michigan. Notre Dame is 4-0, Manti is getting more press and attention than ever and it is all good.
Between September 22nd and January 7th: Manti is the toast of college football. His Irish go undefeated, he is that rare defensive player who gets into the Heisman discussion. Everything is going well and part of it is based on the legend of Kekuna. To Manti the white lies aren’t really lies. He really loved her, she really was his girlfriend. Sure, maybe he didn’t fall asleep on the phone with her or any of that but that makes what they had no less real, right?
January 16, 2013: Deadspin.com releases the story that shatters Manti’s world, he was Catfished. Not only that its worse because he has been telling these little white lies and now it makes it look like he knew all along. Manti is screwed.
That is the truth of this whole thing, the only victim is Manti Te’o. The media looks momentarily lazy for not digging deeper, but because no one dug deeper it doesn’t make any of them look that bad. Notre Dame can keep their hands clean. Kekuna, whoever he or she or they is/are walks away (I am no lawyer but since it doesn’t seem like this whole mess was done for gain it doesn’t seem like it could be viewed as criminal or worthy of the kind of pursuit that it would take to catch whoever Kekuna really is). Te’o didn’t win the Heisman and would have won all those other awards regardless of the “triumph over tragedy” storyline. The fans feel duped but they’ll get over it. But Te’o? Te’o gets to live with this forever. He will always be either the caniving kid who faked a girlfriend or the sucker who fell for the oldest trick in the book. No way out. Like I said, Manti is screwed and the only real victim in this whole crazy story.
But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.