Manti Te’o: a cautionary tale

Manti Te'o in his element
n Manti Te’o in his element


Soon after the heartbreaking revelation that Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o’s girlfriend and grandmother had passed away within hours of each other, another shocking story unfolded. reported Jan. 16th that Lennay Kekua was not the girlfriend of Manti Te’o, nor did she suffer from leukemia. She didn’t attend Stanford University, even though that was where she and Te’o allegedly first met.


The two never met because Lennay Kekua does not exist.

Lannay Kekua
The now-infamous Lannay Quokka

Notre Dame was quick to defend Te’o. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick called a press conference at which he claimed that the face of the most successful Notre Dame football team in the past 25 years had the victim of an elaborate hoax.

Swarbrick stated “there are certain things that I feel confident we do know. The first is that this was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can’t fully understand but had a certain cruelty at its core, based on the exchanges that we were able to see between some of the people who perpetrated it.”

Swarbrick was convincing during the conference, calling Te’o one of the most trusting people he’s ever met. He spoke with mettle, taking deep breaths throughout and said Te’o would carry the burden of this situation for the rest of his life. He spoke sternly, yet softly.

All the press conference lacked was what had brought Swarbrick there in the first place: Proof.

Proof is what the public wants and needs. During a week in which Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping his way to seven Tour de France titles, does Jack really believe “take my word for it” will suffice?

Whispers exist regarding Te’o’s Mormon faith. Inexperience in intimacy may have forced Te’o into waters too deep to swim. As Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wrote “Courtship might have been a novel and/or highly idealized concept. Physical interaction might not have been at the top of his relationship wish list.”

Te’o issued a statement upon the report’s release. “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.” This suggests he had lied in past statements regarding visits between the two. Swarbrick confirmed Te’o had never met Kekua in person.

But fans and the media alike simply cannot trust words anymore.

They want answers. Why, for instance, did Te’o never bother to see Kekua in the hospital while she was dying from cancer? He had claimed she was the love of his life.

Where are the records of marathon phone calls made to Kekua? It had been claimed Te’o stayed up all hours of the night speaking over the phone with her, at times listening to her sleep.

How did a strictly web-based relationship avoid using webcams? And how does a 21-year old man who grew up in an age of online skepticism manage to “fall in love” with a woman without ever meeting her?

Manti Te’o will address these questions in the near future. Ultimately, his future in football depends upon it. He’ll need to prove  that college football’s love affair with him not a hoax.

“We love you Manti!” his fans used to chant at games.

We wonder how they feel now.

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