Was Manti Te’o Punked And Victim Of An Internet Catfishing Hoax?

We’re not even one month into the new year, and Deadspin has produced what is arguably the biggest story in college sports this tear thus far. The story involves Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy All-American linebacker, Manti Te’o in what’s being described by many as a very bizarre story. The story has all the trappings of a yet another trashy Reality TV program, with the perfect blend of romance, deceit, and scandal. Be that as it may, the story shouldn’t be as big as the Penn State sex scandal considering that it doesn’t include any ass-raping in showers horeseplay. However, unfortunately for the would-be future NFL first round draft pick, the story calls into question his credibility and trustworthiness as a leader on one of the nation’s most prestigious and storied football programs. And unfortunately, with the NFL draft just a few months away, this isn’t good for the young prospect. So, was Manti Te’o punked and a victim of an internet catfishing hoax?

This from Deadspin.com:

Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, the stories said, played this season under a terrible burden. A Mormon linebacker who led his Catholic school’s football program back to glory, Te’o was whipsawed between personal tragedies along the way. In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te’o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.

Kekua, 22 years old, had been in a serious car accident in California, and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. SI‘s Pete Thamel described how Te’o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. “Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice,” Thamel wrote.

Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te’o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. It was heartbreaking and inspirational. Te’o would appear on ESPN’s College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. He would send a heartfelt letter to the parents of a sick child, discussing his experience with disease and grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing the young couple’s fairytale meeting—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto.

Did you enjoy the uplifiting story, the tale of a man who responded to adversity by becoming one of the top players of the game? If so, stop reading.

Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.

Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

Now, when I read this story, like so many of you I asked myself: Why? Why would such an exceptional athlete at the height of his collegiate career concoct such a story? Surely there’s no professional football contract bonus for sob stories, no? And of course having met Mitt Romney, we can toss out the whole idea about Mormons being honest. So again, why would this kid lie, and what does he stand to gain from doing so? Can you help me with that question? Reports suggest that Te’o was the victim of an internet hoax. It’s an explanation that’s hard to swallow by many. It’s hard to believe that this one passed the smell test. But pass it did for almost an entire season?

Manti TeoI know many men who have lied about having sex with women, but never have I heard any of them suggest in their defense that they were victimized. And this is why it’s really hard for me to accept the internet hoax explanation. Why? Because it sounds too much like bullshit, and, well, my digestive tract doesn’t allow me to digest that sort of thing. But just on the off-chance that Manti was punked, him lying once the jig was up on December 6th, in my mind, makes him a significant part of the scheme to carry out what, I just don’t know.

Whether we ever get to the bottom of this story, we’ll never know — that is, unless there has already been an Oprah Winfrey interview scheduled. At the end of the day, unless someone comes forward with pictures of Manti’s penis with at least one team-mate and Anthony Weiner laughing in the background that was sent by text message. Sorry, Manti; we don’t believe you… you need more people. Seriously, as Buzzfeed points out, he couldn’t even say when asked in an interview what his “girlfriend” studied at Stanford, and when she graduated — um, he allegedly dated her for three years. But until that day comes, it’s important for Manti to understand while moving forward, even with an NFL contract, he makes for a pretty shitty eHarmony spokesperson. And, at this point, he’d be better off just coming out and telling us that he’s gay; yes, it’s probably the best thing he can do at this point.

But seriously, all jokes aside, I met my wife online nine years ago. And, we both know of a few people who have met people or romantic interests who didn’t quite turn out to be who they said they were. So, the truth is that it can happen. Thankfully for me, my wife never turned out to be a fairy godmother like Manti’s girlfriend.

Heck, from time to time my wife often jokingly asks what would’ve been my reaction if she wasn’t the woman I thought she was when we met. To which my answer has always been that as long as she wasn’t a Nigerian scam artist, we would’ve parted company without any problems. Having said that, it’s quite possible that Manti was played for a sucker — yes, love’s a bitch I suppose. For Manti’s sake, however, let;s just hope someone in Nigeria isn’t laughing about it while cashing checks at the bank in this poor sap’s name.