Manti Te’o-fake girlfriend hoax that Deadspin broke this week, is one of the most bizarre stories in sports or popular culture, mainly because there wasn’t a clear motive for the perpetrators, other seeing how long they could make the prank go on. The girl’s picture was a girl Te’o was different than the girl he he talk to on the phone? Quite complicated.
But in Te’o’s defense-yes, he lacked judgment in this manner. But given his background, it’s plausible that he could have been hoaxed in this manner. Te’o came from a small island culture which are generally more inclusive, and from a religion, Mormonism, that is a very inclusive, which religious bodies are to some extent. He choose rural, isolated Notre Dame over Mormon Mecca BYU and USC, who imports numerous Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, so clearly he was looking for an out of the way community. He was in a different, rural place, away from his family and the people he loved. Could he have been so blind to fall for this scheme?
Let me share a bit of personal experience. Like Te’o, I went to a private school away from where I grew up, Concordia University Wisconsin, a school nestled into the burbs north of Milwaukee. The large chunk of the student body had been raised in smaller communities and gone to Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools, and a few were even homeshooled, as I was. Most of them were well-adjusted and had discernment, but there were that ten percent of students who you wouldn’t have been shocked to see them fall for the Nigeria e-mail scam. Very disappointed, yes, but shocked, no.
In this particular story, there is a bit of gap I see in the media, having mostly to do with values. Not only is a lot of the media considering that Te’o is a bit socially awkward, but they find it inconceivable that Te’o would fall in love without a physical element. Yes, he should have been suspicious, but does anyone want to consider the fact that some people do actually remain chaste and are capable of having a relationship based more on communication rather than raw physical desire?
There has been speculation that Te’o was using the girlfriend story as a cover for homosexuality, a line that the original Deadspin report didn’t say but lead the reader to believe. I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand; frankly, nothing that comes out about Te’o after should surprise anyone. Maybe he invented Lennay Kekua so he could turn down girls and stay a virgin.
The biggest problem for Te’o in this story is that he was shown to be way too naïve. Major college football players, and stars specifically, are told that they are targets. The fact that he and Kekua never Skyped face-to-face or that she always canceled when they were supposed to met should have made Te’o suspicious, and he should have called the relationship off after the first time she didn’t arrive at a pre-arranged meeting. Just a story of young Jack leaving home for the first time.