Jeremy Schaap interviewed Manti Te’o about his role in the recently uncovered hoax:
Te’o claims he was totally unaware of the hoax until shortly before the Deadspin story broke:
“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” [Te'o] said. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.” In the interview, Te’o also said that:
• He lied to his father about having met Kekua, prompting his father to tell reporters that the two had met. Several media stories indicated that he and Kekua had met. Te’o insisted they never did.
• He tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a “black box” and wasn’t seen. …
Te’o said he “catered” his stories so people would think he “met her before she passed away.” “I knew that — I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” he said. “And that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”
Despite this, he seems to hold no ill will toward Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man behind it all:
“I hope he learns,” Te’o said. “I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough.”
Reader speculation on the bizarre story here. Another:
I saw on Facebook where you were asking what readers thought about the story. My answer grew to be too long so I decided to email it instead:
I like college football, but I do not follow it as closely as I once did and I tend to focus on my almae matres (Tennessee and Georgia) and their conference (The SEC). I don’t live in the south any longer where the sport truly is religion. As such my interest has waned. It likely won’t surprise the other casual college football fans (especially casual SEC fans) among your readers to hear me say I never cared about Te’o’s girlfriend before the Deadspin story. Why? Because I didn’t know a thing about her. I did, however, know who Manti Te’o was. I know I can’t be alone – knowing of Te’o and not knowing a thing about Lennay.
Despite not caring one iota before, I find myself strangely interested in Te’o’s “girlfriend” now. I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with Malcolm Gladwell for once. It’s the freaking story. As Klosterman said in a Grantland piece, “It’s the goofiest ‘non-sports’ sports story since Tonya Harding.” How many of us cared about or knew who Tonya Harding or Nancy Kerrigan were back then? Before that goofy-ass story? Not many of us. But for one silly winter many of us were so oddly transfixed to that story that we knew Jeff Gillooly was.
This Te’o thing is just so dumbfounding on so many levels. I’ll tell you why I’m interested now where I wasn’t before.
1.) The sports media truly failed here. Major media outlets were covering this “human interest” story about Manti Te’o, but no one tried to find this poor girl’s family? Seriously…they are going to write about some girl’s tragic death but not seek out a comment from family or friends? Just like me, they didn’t know who Lennay Kekua. Nor did they care. This was hero worship, plain and simple. Sports writers wanted to bask in the glow of golden boy Manti Te’o. And it revealed something that many readers at Deadspin have thought for a long time…ESPN, Sports Illustrated and others are lapdogs to sport superstars and power brokers.
2.) Te’o clearly lied at some point, but we don’t know when. He may even be in on the hoax. Perhaps he was attempting to galvanize support for a Heisman campaign. Perhaps it was some elaborate attempt to cover up his sexuality gone awry. Or perhaps he just lied because he was humiliated at being Catfished and thought the story would die along with the dead fake girlfriend.
3.) His Mormon faith might matter a lot here. Was he so naive and unlike any other star athlete on a college campus that worships their Touchdown Jesuses? Finding a real life woman to date – even if it were a hands free kind of dating – should not have been difficult for the guy. Yes, Notre Dame is full of devout Catholics that may not be interested in a Mormon. Too, he may have been so devout to only be interested in Mormons. But come on… He never met the girl over a 2 year period??? If this is the true story, his faith is as much the culprit as the hoax perpetrator(s). But I don’t believe this to be the case. I’m again probably not alone here. Where his faith might play a bigger role is if he did this to cover up his sexuality. Which brings me to…
4.) His sexuality. If it turns out he is gay as some are beginning to speculate, what does this say about the pressure put on this guy? He is a Mormon at Notre Dame most likely on his way to the NFL. Not exactly the most welcoming organizations for gay individuals. Organizations where it most definitely “needs to get better”. Here is someone that may be able to bridge some of those gaps. Of course…this is all just speculation.
5.) Notre Dame football has skirted several scandals recently. This goofy-ass scandal/hoax/tragedy is much ado about Manti Te’o’s personal life (and I hate that have this macabre interest in what should be private), but it also may be bringing more attention to these past events. Two actual people died and another was allegedly raped. These stories weren’t blowing up twitter and facebook. My hope is that as this story lingers, people keep asking questions about these other stories. That the right people with enough clout will get around to asking why Notre Dame immediately began to investigate on behalf of Te’o but attempted to sweep these other stories under the rug. I mean, the answer is clear…in all cases they were protecting that which is most sacred at Notre Dame – Notre Dame football. That’s my hope at least. This thing could also suck up all the air in the Fighting Irish universe. But that would bring us full circle. Media failure.