By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) I don’t know who to believe.
I really don’t. And I’m not sure how anyone can truly know who to believe when all we have is a convoluted web of contradicting stories, quotes and claims. All the facts do is lead to more questions. And it doesn’t seem like anyone can answer the questions.
Simply put: Manti Te’o’s fake, dead girlfriend is one of the most bizarre sports stories we’ve ever seen.
So what really happened?
I’m not even sure Manti knows. I’m pretty sure Notre Dame doesn’t know. And I sure as hell know that I don’t know.
But my guess is the truth lies somewhere in the middle and at the bottom of this is a college student who was embarrassed after he found out his online relationship wasn’t real.
Think about it. Te’o has repeatedly referred to Lennay Kekua as “the love of my life.” If you’re Te’o’s father, mother, brother, sister, whatever, wouldn’t you want to meet the love of his life?
And that’s probably where the lies started. If you’re having an online-only relationship and you don’t want your family to know you’ve never actually met “the love of my life” then you’re going to start misleading them.
We met after the Stanford game in 2009. She comes to Hawaii to visit me.
But this is another extreme gray area. Claims of Kekua’s visits in Hawaii came from Te’o’s father, Brian, in the South Bend Tribune. If that’s where the family lives, how come Brian never met her when she was there? And wouldn’t he be extremely suspicious if she was supposedly in Hawaii visiting, but Manti never introduced her to the family?
Either the family is in on it or Manti lied to them.
I tend to believe the latter. Wouldn’t you lie to your family if you had never actually met the love of your life in person and you were too embarrassed to admit it?
But here’s where it gets really hairy: When the fake girlfriend dies. Who killed her off?
It’s possible Te’o was being lied to during the length of the relationship. Lennay may really have been some guy named Bob in Nome, Alaska for all we know. And maybe Bob is the cruelest human ever, deciding to kill Lennay off hours after Manti reveals that his grandmother just died.
Or maybe Te’o realized Lennay wasn’t real and he was never actually going to meet this online girlfriend face to face. Too embarrassed by the web of lies he had told his family, he decided to kill her off. He had already been led to believe she had cancer and his family knew she had cancer. People die of cancer, right? His family had to believe him.
But why would Te’o execute the death just hours after his grandmother died? Maybe because he figured his family would be too distracted by his grandmother’s death? Seems pretty naive, although if we’re going with this theory, we’re talking about someone who fell in love with someone who didn’t exist.
I don’t know what to believe when it comes to Lennay’s death. But I am pretty sure this was not a long, thought out hoax planned by Te’o to get Heisman votes.
No, I’m pretty sure he fell in love on the internet. And given his status as the most talked about college football player of the year, the lies — even if they just started with his family — caught up to him. When word got out that his girlfriend and grandmother died hours apart and the media ran with it, Te’o got caught. Even if he really thought she died, was he going to admit “the love of my life” existed only online?
Honestly, if I’m doing one-on-one interviews with ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times, I’m not sure I’d admit that either.
Meanwhile, the positive publicity possibly made him feel better about the whole thing. So he went with it. And once you tell one media outlet a white lie about your online-only girlfriend, you can’t take it back. The media took the tragic story of Te’o’s two family deaths by storm and Manti had no choice but to keep running with it.
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick painted Te’o as a victim Wednesday night and made it seem like the linebacker is the only one not lying.
But you don’t even have to go to the Deadspin story to know Te’o has — at the very minimum — repeatedly bent the truth.
In all the interviews he has done, talking about Lennay, he never once mentioned he never actually met her or any member of her family in person. That’s a pretty big detail to leave out, especially when you are giving her family credit for helping you get through the tragedy.
At the very least, even if Manti Te’o was not involved in the hoax in any way and truly was duped, he knew the media storm was not completely valid and he was complicit in fueling it by not coming clean that he had never met her in person.
Again, I definitely don’t know what really happened, but in a bizarre saga where almost nothing makes sense, a college student embarrassed by an online relationship that wasn’t real is the only explanation that does.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.