The case of the phony girlfriend has become a public relations disaster for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. The story is long and convoluted, so if you’re unfamiliar, I will try to bring you up to speed.
Te’o engaged in an online relationship with a woman he knew as “Lennay Kekua.” After a lengthy online courtship, Kekua reportedly died of leukemia last fall. Te’o gave interviews to sports reporters during Notre Dame’s march to the BCS Championship game in which he detailed his relationship with the girl, and her subsequent death.
Notre Dame held a press conference last night in which they claimed Te’o has been the victim of a cruel hoax. Lennay Kekua never existed.
Now, sports insiders are exposing the truth. The photos used on the social media profiles for the fictional Lennay Kekua have been identified as belonging to another woman who does not know Te’o. Sports website DeadSpin.com is referring to the woman with the pseudonym Reba. She says the photos were stolen from her Facebook page. The plot has now thickened.
Reba tells DeadSpin.com one of the photos used on the fake profile for Lennay Kekua is a photo she never published on her Facebook page. She says she sent the photo to a high school friend, a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. When she discovered the photo was being used as the face of a dead girl, she called Tuiasosopo and claims he immediately began acting weird. The photo was then taken down from the allegedly dead Lennay Kekua’s profile moments later.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Manti Te’o allegedly know each other. And now, the conspiracy theories have blown up in the media. Some say Te’o was “in on” the hoax against him… in an effort to trump up sympathy for his Heisman Trophy campaign. Notre Dame officials questioned whether someone was attempting to bait Te’o into some type of NCAA violation, perhaps for purposes of extortion. The wild allegations are flying.
Te’o needs to come clean and spill it. If he doesn’t, it will just get worse because he’s become a part of the Catfish phenomenon. Catfish was a documentary movie about photographer Nev Schulman. Schulman was engaged in an online relationship with someone who turned out to be a totally different person. The beautiful woman he thought he was speaking to turned out to be a 40 year old overweight woman with a depressing home life who had engaged in a relationship with Schulman as a form of escape.
The movie has now turned into an MTV reality series (Catfish TV) in which Schulman helps those in online relationships uncover their partners’ identities, true or not. Last night, they aired an episode in which a man discovers the buxom blonde he thought he was dating online turned out to be an African American male from a nearby town.
This is happening all the time in the social media era, and I believe this is exactly what happened to Manti Te’o. Those caught in Catfish snares are frequently already suffering from low self-esteem and a heavy dose of naivete’, and the embarrassment of being duped can cause lies to pile up. This is also why there are differing accounts of whether Te’o met Lennay Kekua, and whether he spoke with her on the phone. After he realized he had been gullible, he tried to lie his way out of it… and he almost made it.
Let me explain it through a hypothetical.
Te’o meets a person online, someone he thinks is a beautiful young woman. Really, it’s his acquaintance Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who has a little man crush on Te’o. They engage in flirtatious chat, up to and including sexually charged conversations. This goes on for weeks or months, and both parties get something they need out of the interactions. Te’o quite likely told a few of his buddies about some of the interactions, and his family too.
Sometime later, friends and family start asking questions. Have you met? Have you talked on the phone? When can we meet her?
At this point, Te’o probably begins to take some of their suspicions seriously. He begins to question the existence of Lennay Kekua as well. But it’s beyond the point of no return by that time. The embarrassment of admitting he was so gullible was too hard to face, and he begins trying to lie his way out of it. Yes, I’ve met her. Yes, I talk to her on the phone every night.
At some point he learns the truth. Then it gets more serious. “She told me she’s dying of leukemia.” And eventually “She died of leukemia yesterday.” And at that time, he believes it’s over.
Te’o needs to come clean and endure the ribbing that will surely come from his teammates and friends. The conspiracy theories that he was trying to deceive someone for whatever purpose will do far more damage to his NFL career than anything. Humiliation washes off with soap and water.