Processing the Manti Te'o Hoax, or Trying To
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — I was taking my nephew to his weekly speech therapy appointment yesterday when the news broke. Observing the therapy from the other side of a two-way mirror, I got my phone out and checked Twitter like the bad uncle that I am.
One or two thumb scrolls later, I came across Deadspin's tweet.
"Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend, the most heartbreaking and inspirational story of the college football season, is a hoax.
As one of the few voices of reason (aka "haters") when it came to the amount of national hype and attention that Te'o has received this past year, I couldn't click the link fast enough.
With therapy ending in a matter of minutes, I didn't want to be interrupted, so I read through the story as quickly as I could, sometimes having to re-read sections because they were completely unbelievable.
I made it through in time, but that didn't mean I could believe what I read. My initial thought after reading it, and I believe the thought that Deadspin wanted the readers to have, was that Manti Te'o created a fake girlfriend, killed her off, and then let the outpouring of sympathy following her "death" wash over him like Calgon on elephant steroids.
He manipulated an entire nation and not-so-coincidentally raked in national award after national award, with everyone citing his "story" as one of his key statistics.
It was the biggest thing to hit Twitter that I can ever remember. Lance Armstrong could have gone on national television, tied a pair of babies to a wooden stick and used them as clackers, and nobody would have noticed.
We finally left therapy, practically racing home just so I could check my phone for the latest.
When I saw my wife, I immediately asked her, "Have you ever heard of Manti Te'o?"
"He's a Notre Dame football player..."
"Oh, is he the one with the girlfriend who died? Yeah, I've heard of him."
"Well," I said, knowing that these next few words were going to be so fun to say, "it came out today that his girlfriend was a complete hoax."
"No it didn't," she said, hoping that I was just pulling some stupid joke out of the air, because that's not atypical for me.
I told her the entire story. How Te'o created a girlfriend, and then told people that she died. It was such a great story!
"Well, how do you know he was behind it?" she asked. "Maybe he got duped."
She's the type of person who always tries to see the good in a person, which probably explains her settling for me. I'm the type of person who hands out cynicism like campaign buttons.
"Vote for me! All people are terrible!"
I almost blew her off in the type of way that leads to uncomfortable silences and an eventual apology from me. I entertained her notion that he wasn't behind this, but felt my time could be better spent scrolling through my phone and reading the reactions.
It was an amazing sight. Twitter brought its "A-game", and had no concerns for survivors. People were tearing Te'o down without a second thought that anybody other than him could be behind a scam like this. He was instantly and publicly convicted of taking the fake girlfriend story about six million steps too far. It was a global Te'o roast, and everyone was invited. Jokes, vitriol, more jokes, and then, finally, a whole lot more jokes. And I was right there with them.
After sending off that tweet, I laughed at it again. I read it to my wife. I think she almost laughed, but it didn't happen.
"Why would he do something like this," she asked, trying to plant some doubt in my mind that maybe he wasn't behind this entire thing.
Obviously, there's only one person who can answer the question of why he would do this, assuming he actually did it, and the rest of us have only guesses. But Twitter moves too fast to ask serious questions that demand answers that we simply cannot comprehend. That's why the jokes continued, which is Twitter's second purpose, behind only the distribution of information regarding meaningful events and important bacon.
One of Twitter's faults, however, is the mob mentality. (This is also one of Twitter's greatest features.) Guilt was being thrown at Te'o like it was a foregone conclusion that he was behind this. It was fun, enjoyable. But even Deadspin would only sign off on one of their sources being "80%" sure that Te'o was involved. Does that mean the source was 20% sure that Te'o was completely unaware?
Then, a few hours of digesting this amazing story later, and I began to wonder if maybe Te'o was actually innocent. Notre Dame and Te'o both released statements stating such, but that really had no impact on my thought process because they were just doing what they had to do.
Though even with my new-found doubts about Te'o's glorious guilt, that didn't stop me from joking about the ramifications of his innocence.
When, watching Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick address the media about this at his press conference, I found myself thinking that Te'o and Notre Dame's story was plausible.
While a relationship that takes place online or over the phone might seem strange to you, it happens. And yes, that type of relationship can lead to somebody being led on and lied to. MTV has an entire show devoted to it called "Catfish". So yes, this stuff happens.
Did it happen here? I don't know. Even though it was entertaining as all heck while it was breaking, the story is incredibly silly. Go ask the oldest living male member of your family if he has heard about Manti Te'o's pretend girlfriend, and if he doesn't tell you to shut up and/or take a swing at you with his cane, I will give you one internet dollar.
Even if Te'o did create a fake girlfriend, how many of us have never done something similar at some point in our young lives? The only difference is that we didn't have an entire platoon of media looking to create schmaltzy content regarding our stupid lies.
I don't want to believe that Te'o is behind this hoax, but that didn't stop me from believing it completely when I first read the story.
I know most people don't believe Te'o or Notre Dame, and I don't know that I believe them either. Right now, I'm just choosing to want to believe that a person as high profile as Manti Te'o would never bring this on himself.
If both Te'o and Notre Dame stick to their guns, then I have no problem believing them, because it's such a stupid thing to get worked up about.
And if he is lying, I can't get all that upset about a media creation fabricating portions of his life. After all, he's just doing what he's been taught.
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