A few months ago, “College GameDay” (powered by the Home Depot, you guys) aired a special about how his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day and he was able to go out that Saturday and tackle a bunch of people really hard. SO inspiring (Brian Kelly even gave the game ball to Lennay Kekua). But I was nagged by the fact that he didn’t attend his girlfriend’s funeral, instead opting to play against Michigan State on that Saturday. I talked about it with everyone I saw that day and the week after.
“Wouldn’t you go to your girlfriend’s funeral?” I asked.
I know I would have, even if it was that bitch Lauren (CAN YOU SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME, LAUREN?!). I couldn’t fathom a scenario where he skips the funeral of someone with whom he loudly claimed to be so close. My conclusion, then, was that he wasn’t that close with her. I even doubted whether or not she was his girlfriend (though I never doubted her existence). Watching the interview, I knew Te’o was a prima donna; all dramatic pauses and intense stares, fighting back tears. He looked more post-stroke WWE wrestler than football player. It wasn’t a stretch to assume he would then play up someone he might have sexted a couple times as his girlfriend. It turns out I was closer to the truth than I knew.
Te’o now claims he was the victim in an elaborate hoax (make your own conclusions from the Deadspin article). Ehhhhhhh. But, just for fun, let’s say he’s telling the absolute truth. Let’s say all those claims he made about talking on the phone with her for hours, and speaking with her family, and sending flowers to her funeral (don’t you need a name of the deceased or an actual city to send flowers to? Spoiler alert: you need both) was just him caught up in the media machine that desperately wants a feel-good story to run with.
I can almost forgive that.
Manti Te’o is not a “cool guy,” so it’s possible his insecurities led him to those minor sins. And as a former high school football player myself, I know how easy it is to look for causes, to sing the “Rudy” theme song in your head as you run onto the field, to pose naked in the mirror while whispering the name of that week’s opponent (I mean… what?). No great football players are nihilists, and they all need a little inspiration in order to willfully run as fast as you can at another human. But I can’t forgive the opera he perpetuated: the tears at the pep rally, the postgame interview, the Instagram account, all over someone he never met. Maybe I’m a cynic, but watching him perform all season, his dramatic flourishes after a big play or big game and his condescending speeches about faith made me distrust him (this one is now especially hilarious, “Faith,” he told ESPN, “is believing in something that you most likely can't see, but you believe to be true.”).
And it speaks to a larger truth in life: like a gay Baptist preacher, a kid-touching Scoutmaster, or a guy in your office who constantly talks how hard he’s working, it tends to be the ones speaking the loudest that are the most full of shit. Or, in the case of Manti Te’o: those that suffer loudly aren’t suffering at all, for they still have the strength to shout.
I wrote an article expressing my distaste for Notre Dame a few weeks ago. It was tongue-in-cheek and admittedly, I was having a bit of fun with some of my Notre Dame fan buddies. But this Manti Te'o thing piles on a point I made then: I don't hate Notre Dame because they're good at football, I hate Notre Dame because they built and perpetuate a myth all around a bunch of large men pushing an oblong ball up and down a field. And Manti Te’o’s chest-beating, and pointing at the sky, and emotional interviews are just another extension of the invented drama surrounding Notre Dame football — or any sports team, for that matter. As a graduate of a disgraced Penn State, I can see what a house of cards it all is, how lacking in perspective any type of sports worship can be, how petty it can be.
Manti Te’o is now represented by one of the largest talent agencies in the world. They’ll spin this however they need to, and they’ve already started. As they stated, maybe Te’o truly was the victim of a hoax. Maybe he never knew this “girlfriend” was fake. Maybe he even mourned her (as much as one can mourn someone they never even met). But the fact that she’s not real underlines something I felt three months ago when I saw him on “GameDay”: regardless of if he knew she was fake, it speaks volumes that he was willing to exploit her death for his own sport and celebrity. Someone he apparently barely knew.
One more thing, his real-life grandmother died on the same day his made-up girlfriend “died.” Guess who he spoke about more? Maybe Nanas don’t inspire him or the people around him – after all, everyone deals with dying grandparents. Cute girls doing selfy pics on the other hand? Cue up the “Rudy” music.