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Te'o: Sticking Points

Twenty-four hours after news broke that the captivating tale of Manti Te’o’s deceased girlfriend was a farce, the winding narrative is still flooded with as many questions as answers.

Notre Dame officials indicated Wednesday night that the All-American linebacker and Heisman runner-up might come forward to fill in the gaps in his side of the story today (Thursday). It doesn’t appear that will happen at the moment.

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that the Te’o family planned to come forward with information about the story next week before a report from Deadspin.com revealed the duplicitous online relationship between Te’o and a person claiming to be named Lennay Kekua. Swarbrick confirmed that Kekua was not a real person and said that her backstory was part of an “elaborate hoax,” according to an independent investigative firm hired by the university.

The Deadspin story alleged that Te’o may have been in some way involved with concocting or perpetuating Kekua’s fictional story. Swarbrick adamantly denied those claims, saying Te’o was an innocent victim, a “perfect mark.” The well-respected athletic director went out of his way to his stick his neck out for Te’o, which added some gravity and believability to the school’s official stance. There are, however, three main sticking points that present a case for skepticism about Te’o’s naivety and innocence. They are questions begging for answers.

1)The “couple’s” alleged face-to-face meetings
Swarbrick said Wednesday the interactions between Te’o and Kekua occurred strictly online and on the telephone. That contradicts reports from an October South Bend Tribune article that provided specific details about their first meeting in Palo Alto, Calif., after a football game against Stanford in 2009. Those details were provided by Te’o’s father, according to Eric Hansen, who wrote the initial Tribune story. Brian Te’o also mentioned that the couple had spent time together in Hawaii.

When asked directly about the conflicting reports, Swarbrick said, “I’m going to let Manti tell the story because he deserves that right.” He reiterated that the relationship was strictly online and telephonic and added that Kekua had arranged meetings with Te’o in Hawaii, but never showed.

2)The delay in reporting the hoax when it was discovered
Te’o first learned he was being duped on Dec. 6 when he received a phone call from Lennay Kekua’s cell phone, Swarbrick said. He waited 20 days before informing a pair of Notre Dame coaches that the stories about Kekua were not as they seemed. Why the long delay?

“He wanted to talk to his parents, and he wanted to talk to them in person,” Swarbrick said.

Te’o told his parents while at home in Laie, Hawaii for Christmas. He apparently did not tell them about his concerns on the night of Dec. 6 when the family was together in Orlando watching Te’o receive a trio of national awards for his play on the field. He also stayed silent for the next three days while traveling with his parents to New York and to California for other award ceremonies. He continued to field questions about Kekua during the month of December and in early January.

3)Te’o’s relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo
Finally, there are the vague virtual ties between Te’o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man that the Deadspin article alleges was behind the Kekua persona. According to that article, Te’o helped promote a song by Tuiasosopo online and also sent him a message via Twitter in the past.

That certainly doesn’t imply Te’o was complicit in a hoax, only that he had some previous contact with the man Notre Dame is painting as his tormenter. Swarbrick, though, said the investigation did not reveal any connection between the two parties. “That characterization does not square with my information,” he said. “But I’ll let the Te’o’s address it.”

There are ways to fit all of these facts comfortably into Notre Dame’s story, and ways to fit them into a darker tale that places Te’o on the wrong side of a cruel trick. The longer Te’o waits to speak the harder it will become to clear his name in the court of public opinion.

Doubt about why he waited so long will eat away at the authenticity of his explanation. Te’o has already lost the opportunity to gain the benefit of that doubt by being the first to tell the world he was duped. Down the road he can bring a civil law suit against the alleged perpetrators — filing under the intentional infliction of emotional distress tort — to try to prove his innocence in front of a judge. But for now, his silence is only adding to the long list of questions that sooner or later he will have to answer.

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