Everyone in the football-following community all have an opinion on this lengthy, investigative piece published at Deadspin Wednesday afternoon, the topic of which was the relationship between Manti Te’o and a girlfriend who reportedly died in September but may never have existed. Another take on the story is but a peep in a voluminous echo chamber. Still, there’s an overwhelming feeling in my chest as I write this, a cold sadness, I have to add to the white noise.
I ask myself, why? What could be the possible motivation here? There are details and background missing — not from the report, mind you. Maybe there are, but perhaps not. But there are the details to the entire sordid affair the general public doesn’t yet, and might never know. Indictments will be made of Notre Dame, of the media at large, of Te’o himself. Perhaps they’ll be founded. So many more layers exist, one of which Notre Dame peeled back when it issued this statement via its Facebook account:
On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.
So something is amiss, though only now coming to light. Te’o was asked about the girlfriend at BCS championship media day. His response made no mention of her.
I think whenever you’re in football, it takes your mind off a lot of things. You know, this team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, do you want to go to the movies. Coach is always calling me asking me, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?” I have three roommates, Zeke, Carlo and Robby Toma, who are always yelling at each other, who’s going to play Call of Duty. I’m rarely by myself, and that’s how I like it. I’m always around my guys, always around my family.
The weight of this ordeal, whether self-perpetrated or otherwise, surely had to weigh on Te’o as he struggled through perhaps the worst game of his career on the biggest stage. The typically outstanding Te’o seemed off, beyond simply struggling with Alabama’s size and speed. And make no mistake, he was outstanding throughout his career. I advocated for him to win the Heisman — and based on when it was given and the cases to be made based from on-field contributions, I stand by the assessment.
More is sure to come out from this story, and some of the all-knowing assessments being rendered now will be debunked. But one certainty painfully obvious in these preliminary stages is the end result is sad. This unshakeable feeling I have isn’t going to be settled, regardless of backstory or outcome. The original Deadspin report references the documentary Catfish — an apropos allusion, because I have the same feeling now as I did at the film’s conclusion.