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Oh No Te’o

CJ Dudek, Sports Columnist

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On Oct. 2 Manti Te’o sat in front of a TV camera and proceeded to convince the world that he was distraught by the death of a girl that didn’t exist.

Even if Te’o was duped at the beginning of this tragic hoax, the sit down he did with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski immediately stripped him of deniability. That interview was the point of no return for Te’o as the victim – that is, if he ever was the victim.

While Te’o spoke to Wojciechowski, he controlled the story. His lies were being interpreted as facts. The made-for-Hollywood story was so good that everyone believed it for the duration of the college football season.

Te’o called the apparition “the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met, not because of her physical beauty but the beauty of her character.”

It is inconceivable that Te’o didn’t utilize this for his own gain. Te’o overcoming adversity and playing well in Kekua’s memory propelled his Heisman trophy campaign. Everyone could get behind an athlete who lost someone meaningful in his life.

Te’o and Notre Dame were compelling storylines for the entire year in part because of the false personal tragedy.

If Te’o truly was duped he would not have told the LA Times on Dec. 10 that he was going to play a few days after her burial because “she made me promise, when it happened, that I would stay and play.”

That promise was false. The pictures of Kekua were instead of a woman named Diane O’Meara. The persona of Kekua was just a figure of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s warped imagination.

Granted these kids are not the only ones at fault here. Wojciechowski even admitted in an ESPN phone interview on Jan. 16 that he couldn’t find Kekua in any obituary and did not speak to Kekua’s “parents” at Te’o’s request.

Still, when a subject’s grief appears to be that real in the moment, most journalists wouldn’t press the matter. Especially since it was a college athlete at a prominent program who lost his grandmother earlier that month.

Between Lance Armstrong and the many lies of steroid users, Te’o’s narrative was the alternative: an athlete that overcomes personal tragedy through good play.

Now that all-important, feel-good storyline will be forever under fire for college football players. There will be conspiracy theorists that doubt the good stories of others because of Te’o’s selfish lies.

This story won’t impact Te’o’s draft stock because it doesn’t show up on game film. While Te’o did say her memory inspired him, scouts will just see how quickly he can get to a running back on tape.

If Te’o really was grieving, it is plausible to think that at some point he would have stopped talking about her. A grieving boyfriend would eventually ask the media to leave him alone if they were pressing him, especially a college kid.

That is why it is impossible to believe Te’o was the victim. For how long the hoax lasted, how much he talked about her after learning she didn’t exist, how little the media knew about her, and how successful he was all suggest that Te’o knew of the ruse and used it to gain notoriety.

Te’o was a linebacker at a well-known college and a good player to boot. This ruse was not necessary for him to reach the level of stardom he achieved. Now nobody can believe a word that comes out of his mouth ever again.

If Te’o ever plans to sit down for an exclusive interview again he better plan on getting his story straight.

 

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