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‘This Is Manti’s Story To Tell’

One part of me can easily give Manti Te’o the benefit of doubt. He has earned that right as the consummate student-athlete and face of the Notre Dame program that resulted in a stunning 12-0 regular season renaissance in 2012, with his leadership playing a vital role.

Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick (right) said "nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota."

The benefit of doubt we are referring to is Wednesday afternoon’s surreal news that Lennay Kekua, the supposed deceased girlfriend of linebacker Te'o, never actually existed, other than as a pseudo on-line and telephone line attraction in which Te’o apparently fell for hook, line and sinker — or “Catfished” in the social media vernacular. It was widely reported on Sept. 12 that Kekua had passed away from leukemia the same day as Te’o’s grandmother. On Dec. 26, the consensus All-America linebacker informed head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco he had been duped regarding Kekua.

Another part of me tells me there are too many missing pieces to this story. Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, originally an attorney, gave a powerful defense of Te’o in a Wednesday night press conference, stating, “The thing I am most sad about (long pause as Swarbrick tried to collect himself emotionally) is the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way.”

I can buy his defense because of the personality Te’o (who graduated from Notre Dame in December and is reportedly training in Florida for the spring NFL Draft) has cultivated and lived by to become one of the most celebrated players in the program’s history. I can even see him as the Dave Stoller character in the 1979 coming-of-age movie “Breaking Away”, which won Best Original Screenplay that year from the Academy Awards.

Stoller is a naïve 19-year-old who has trained to become a world-class cyclist and prides himself on living by a code of honor. When he meets his idols, the Italian racing team, he is crestfallen when during a race they jam a tire pump in Stoller’s wheel, causing him to crash when it appeared he was besting them. His father, who runs his used car business sometimes unethically, is stunned to see his normally happy-go-lucky son suddenly so crushed when he returns home.

“Everybody cheats,” said Dave somberly, baring his soul to his father. “I just didn’t know.”

“Well, now you know,” replied the father in a genuinely sympathetic manner. (Of course, Dave did his own cheating previously by pretending to be someone he was not while trying to woo an out-of-his-league coed, but that’s another story.)

Te’o is somewhat like Stoller in this story, an individual who still seems to have plenty of “kid” in him that was ingratiating to the masses. Because Te’o did possess that touch of childlike joy and a gentle, trusting soul, Swarbrick said “in many ways, Manti was the perfect mark” to be caught in the hook.

Yet what consistently set him apart in his four years at Notre Dame was Te’o also consistently displayed the maturity of a wise man — an “old soul,” as Diaco would describe. Poet’s say love can make one blind … but it also can make you deaf and dumb. Probably 99 percent of the world has been there.

Something never seemed quite right about the Kekua story. She was the “love of his life,” yet he didn’t attend the funeral — mainly because there wasn’t one. There was a given assumption that they had “met” and visited each other, yet the facts coming out now is it was strictly on-line or phone line. At the same time, Te'o was wearing a ring to honor her. Even Swarbrick admitted that after talking extensively with Te’o about the new revelations, the AD also originally misinterpreted what “met” meant, noting that the verb was “not one I might have chosen.”

This poignant tragedy became such a media sensation and human interest piece, that everyone (including yours truly) just ran with it without having any real fact-checking on whether she indeed had attended and graduated from Stanford, where her family was, or even contact or a statement from the family on the young lady’s courageous fight being honored by one of the greatest college players in the game.

To many, it now might come across as the greatest locker room ruse since 1918-30 Irish head coach Knute Rockne, in a speech prior to a game, wept to his team that his gravely ill young son Billy had just sent a telegram that read, “I want daddy’s team to win.” Upon their return to the train station, the victorious and exhausted Notre Dame team discovered there was nobody healthier in the greeting line than poor little Billy.

I can buy that Te’o was Catfished. No human being is immune to getting duped, especially one who is still of college age. Swarbrick referred to it as “a casual cruelty.” But it’s a fair question to ask that if Te’o never actually met her face to face, why continue to cultivate a mythology? Was it for “attention-mongering”? It’s also credible to me when Swarbrick, when told that the impression nationally is going to be that Te’o was, at best, disingenuous, responds with, “Then you don’t know Manti.” I believe he indeed might have been a victim because … that’s what I want to believe. He's earned the right to be believed that his grief was genuine. This is when a good name and reputation reaps dividends.

However, there are too many layers to this story to take it at face value without actually hearing from Te’o himself. Even then, some doubt might exist. As Swarbrick summarized, “this is Manti's story to tell and we believe he should have the right to tell it, which he is going to do.”

Stay tuned for the next episode of “As The Dome Turns.”

  • Good read, Lou.

    An underachieving and uninspired program comes out of nowhere to achieve it's greatest season in 20 years. It's not completely unfathomable that some of it would be manufactured.

    I kind of think the backlash is magnified because it's more kicking to a downed program. I wonder how this all would have looked had Notre Dame not been so recently embarrassed in the program's biggest game in decades. I guess on some level it's a shame it was a sham, but I'm not particularly upset, certainly not enough to feign outrage.

  • Lou,

    Once again another great read from you and I couldn't agree more. Lets at least give the man a chance to tell his side of things. Many times things aren't what they seem to be in life, and many times judgement is passed without getting the full view. What he has done on the field will be remembered most to me. I hope that he goes on to accomplish great things at the next level and beyond. No matter what happens with this, Manti has done great things for this team and University. It is unfortunate that events such as these even happen and to the extent that there is even a term for it and a tv show that covers things like this. I will be watching when he does tell us his side of the story, and until then and even afterward I will be grateful that Manti is a part of ND history. Thanks again Lou!

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  • Lou - I have never seen Swarbrick so emotional and he has the results of a lengthy investigation as well as personal talks with Manti and his family. I certainly can wait for Manti to tell the story. But as one who is trained as a psychologist - I find the story quite believable. We have to separate professional behavior from emotional relationships. In the pressure of being student-athelete at ND - I have no question that Manti could turn to an online intimacy as a way to cope. In fact - it is an even better solution than a person on campus - in some ways less entangled in ever day life and scheduling conflicts. From what I know of the internal pressures today on someone in their late teens and early 20s - as well as the "catfish syndrome" - nothing I have heard yet is in explicable. And after Swarbrick's press conference - both Manti and the University deserve more than any skepticism of veracity. Sure, let ESPN run with a bunch of muck. As trained in the field of psychological trauma - especially war trauma - we know that secondary trauma is more hurtful than the initial event. Secondary trauma is when one is not believed or the "hurt is not seen" after the event. If the "wound" is recognized and care extended - the person can heal. I actually disagree with Swarbrick's comment - not his emotion. Manti can trust deeply again but it in large part depends on how those closest to him will extend belief about the depth of hurt.

    ND has investigated and the facts line up with the psychological profile of such an event. I want to extend to Manti my whole hearted support. I know that an online relationship today can be a full emotional one. In a bygone era - soldiers may have written pen pal letters - yet that unseen person could hold a powerful sway on a solider's heart. Same today for a student-athelete warrior. Let's give Manti and the University the support they need and I believe deserve. Let others be skeptical - but it is important for Manti's future - that his family not doubt the wound is real - care about how this hoax was inflicted - be angry about how someone used a student athlete in a vulnerable period of his life. Manti - I totally get it. And I stand with you.

    This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by ashaia 15 months ago

    Keeper of the Count to Resurrection II: the Kelly Era begins - - POTW: June 2010 & August 2011 - - member since 2004

  • ashaia,

    Excellent point about the bygone era with the soldiers and pen pal letters, and it's something I wish I would have delved into within the story. I have seen quite a bit of literature from the past, including Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" book on how that was a coping mechanism for many a soldier in World War II. Not trying to equate a football game with life and death situations, but it there is some plausible tie-in to me. Being in the spotlight the way he is and having to maintain that aura of the rock who doesn't get shaken, I'm sure we all know he must feel great embarrassment about this, but in the right time and place will handle it well.

  • Lou, what is your opinion or your feeling on how the team will react to this? Also, do you think there is any chance Someone at ND knew this was a ruse before the 26th of Dec? That would not be good.

    Two time Poster of The Week, 2011 and 2013.

  • Very well done, Lou. You touched all the relevant bases, to the extent that we know them, at this time, and pointed out those that still need to touched. Same goes to Ashaia for adding a very useful perspective from someone who works in this arena. We're too early into this to speak conclusively. Manti has some dots to connect, but once we recover from the initial shock, we can start to realize that what happened to him may not really be so shocking in the context of what's happening with social media, today. And, as Ashaia suggests, it may not be so different than what has transpired in other forms, long before the existence of Twitter and Facebook. As a parent of a teenager, it is more than a little disconcerting.

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    I may not be pretty, but I'm fast..... POTW 1/31/11 - 2/6/11

  • Well said, ashaia ! Thank you for a professional and objective explanation of this puzzling situation.

  • I posted in another thread last night that based on Swarbrick's comments from the private investigation, and his emotional defense of Manti, that I believe Manti was totally duped. He may have "embellished" his relationship once the national media jumped on board, but until proven otherwise I am willing to believe Manti's story.

  • This is bizarre at best. Whatever the explanation, now Manti has to come out with it, and it must be so embarrassing. Sometimes you wish you could crawl into a hole, but you can't. Poor kid.

    "Having the right to do something doesn't mean it's right to do it." -- Chief Justice Warren Burger

  • Do we know when Manti will hold a press conference?

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    ND Family...Go Irish !!!!

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    We're al just dust in the wind.

  • Sad situation...the full story will come out...wish him the best...following ND football is like riding a roller coaster..

    I think this issue was hurting his play in the game..it was his worst game all year..maybe even BK was a little shocked on how this would play out...

  • cdarcy

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  • Wonderfully stated, Ashaia. One issue that you don't reference is Manti's devout Mormon faith. I believe that constitutes a significant piece of the rationale which makes it difficult for most "conventional" thinkers to comprehend a relationship which is not "lust-based".

    Ironically, the very essence of this special young man, to-wit: his character, is what makes this tragic tale so incomprehensible to so many.

    This post was edited by bigpatrick 15 months ago

  • Lou, your articles are always very thought provoking. Obviously going to be a lot more coming out on this story over the next few days and weeks. Manti will have his say, and a now ravenous national press will disect every word dealing with this relationship. The full story will come out.

    I wish.....I wish....shortly after the Michigan State game, when this story really broke, that some adult (other than Manti, assuming the niave line) who was aware that his relationship was cyber only and not face-to-face, would have had the forethought to have suggested to "set the record" straight with the American public. Everybody assumed, including anybody on this board, that this was a long standing or at least face-to-face relationship, even if the thought were subliminal. That forethought would have gone along way to preventing the mess that Manti will now have to deal with in the years to come resulting from this story. Whether niave or otherwise, he will have a rough time dealing with this for a while in the Pros.

  • I would agree with Ashaia, this is not uncommon as many of you know hundreds of children are convinced by someone they have met on the internet to leave their home for a better life or for romance. Many scams targeting adults and seniors are found on the internet. “The lonely hearts club group” gets involved with on line romances and is duped into sending large amounts of money to people on the internet. The bad guys know just what questions to ask and how to tug at the heart strings to have their victim’s send them money. As an example two recent cases that I have worked involved women who were just given some attention by someone they met on the internet. One victim was sent a dozen roses and the other was told by her on line lover that he would come from Egypt to marry her. Both of these victims got in over their heads and could have gone to jail as part of the scam just because someone paid a little attention to them. The bad guys whoever they may be or say they are…the recent commercial on TV that you can believe everything on the internet comes to mind.
    The hardest thing to do in so many of these types of cases is to have the victim come forward and report that they were taken advantage of, embarrassment, shame and how could I have been so stupid, why were you so stupid are comments that victim’s fear especially if they sent cash to the person they met on the internet or in this case a national audience

  • Ashaia; Thank you for your perspective and input. I understand that Jack Swarbrick,and the university are standing behind Manti and that is good enough for me. Many others I am sure have had this situation come up in their life but are not put under the microscope and media barrage like Manti. I really can't agree that Manti should be embarrassed about this,although he is, if he did nothing wrong. From the stories with investigation backing them up, he was simply trying to have a heartfelt relationship with another human being. I feel his faith will see him through this. God bless this young man .

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