As if the 42-14 drubbing the Notre Dame football team endured January 7th wasn’t bad enough, the Irish faithful now have quite possibly the weirdest/disturbing story we have seen in sports for a long time.
We all know it by now: The week of the Irish’s game against Michigan State, news came out the star linebacker Manti Te’o had lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend within hours of each other. The story was emotional, and Te’o’s resolve and play were inspiring. Little did we know that Te’o's girlfriend, the supposed Lannay Kukua, never existed. Or, if she does, not in the manner or capacity that we thought. And she certainly isn’t dead.
The story broke yesterday on the website Deadspin. To see the original article, see here: http://deadspin.com/5976517/manti-teos-dead-girlfriend-the-most-heartbreaking-and-inspirational-story-of-the-college-football-season-is-a-hoax. Most of the details of Te’o's “relationship” with Lannay Kukua have been hashed and rehashed on just about very sports and news website and TV channel, so we won’t go into the specific details here, but we’ll cover the generics.
The basics are: Te’o states he met this woman online, and through the internet and phone calls, grew into what he described as a “romantic relationship.” He was then informed of Kukua’s leukemia diagnosis after she was involved in a car accident. Then the day his grandmother passed away, he was also informed of Kukua’s death due to complications from leukemia.
Everyone was taken by this dual tragedy that Te’o had apparently suffered, and felt for him as he and the Irish surged their way to national relevance again. All was well until we all found out that Kukua did not, in fact, exist (except, according to Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Maui’a, she does).
We know that Ronaiah Tuiasasopo is involved, and may be the perpetrator of the whole hoax. What we don’t know is the extent to which Te’o was involved – if he was involved at all. And I’m here to tell you this: It doesn’t matter one way or the other. Whichever proves to be the true case, Te’o is either naive, or a liar. Neither will look good when it comes to being drafted into the NFL, something that will surely happen regardless of how this works out. Te’o didn’t do anything illegal. If he was intricately involved in the scheme, he only proves himself to be yet another publicity hungry, amoral athlete, something we have had no shortage of in our sports history. That will raise red flags to the NFL people regarding his character. If he was not involved, it raises some serious red flags about his judgment. But he’s still going to be drafted, still get signed to a big money contract – no way he slips out of the first round – and the world will go on spinning. He’ll still be lambasted for years in opponents’ stadiums. When it comes to being dishonest or just dumb, the opposing team’s fans will be just as merciless either way.
Until we know all or most of the answers to the seemingly hundreds of questions still surrounding this situation, I think the court of public opinion just needs to shut up and let it play out. That, of course, is impossible, but it would be nice to see people hold off on their judgments until the evidence has been presented in full.
Don’t get me wrong, if Te’o is proven or admits to being involved in the hoax, he deserves every last bit of scorn he has received and will receive. But if he was just a victim to someone’s sick idea of a joke, then the guy deserves a bit of a break.
Initially, I am personally leaning towards the victim side. I’d have a hard time believing that Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick would defend Te’o so strongly if it wasn’t. I’d like to see the final report they received from the private investigators they hired to look in to the matter though. I also have a difficult time believing Te’o thought he needed to do this for publicity. When the story about Kukua’s death first came out, no one was even close to mentioning Te’o for the Heisman. He was already one of the best defensive players in college football, and on one of the most highly publicized programs in the nation. So for me, that argument doesn’t hold water.
But there are circumstances that could sway me to the other side. We need to know what Te’o's full connection to Ronaiah Tuiasasopo is. We need to find out if there really is a Lannay Kukua, and if so, what her connections in this are, if any at all. And, if Te’o was involved in the hoax, we need to know the real reason why.
Liar or naive, idiot or a$$hole, Te’o is going to be ridiculed and scorned for the rest of his football life, and maybe even longer. Whatever mistakes Te’o has made, he’s going to pay for them either way.
That’s why it doesn’t matter.
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