For many people in our culture, sports are more than just games. Sports is something that’s bigger than ourselves. Sports are something we can hold onto during tough times, and something that can pull us out of those times. Sports has been nothing short of magical for the world in so many ways, and we rely on it more than it makes sense to. We love it. We believe in it. We trust it.
But sometimes, every once in a blue moon, sports betray us. That’s exactly what happened in the hoax of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend.
Te’o began an online relationship with a girl named Lennay Kekua. The two had supposedly never met, but were still in love. Unfortunately, Kekua came down with cancer and eventually passed away, leaving Te’o heartbroken and at a loss. His grandmother had also died.
Instead of taking time to cope with his loss, Te’o responded by playing inspired football, racking up tackles, interceptions and many end of the year awards. The Fighting Irish defense was unstoppable behind him. They went undefeated and made it to the national championship, while Te’o was the runner up for the Heisman and had the nation on his side.
Everyone loved his story. It was truly heartwarming to see Te’o channel the deaths of his loved ones into top-notch football play.
Until it came out that Lennay Kekua did not die, because she never existed.
Just like that, the nation was turned upside down. How could someone do this? How could they make up the death of a fake girlfriend to gain publicity, or fill whatever other motives a person has? Instantly, the nation had become disgusted with Te’o.
The linebacker claims that he was innocent and had no idea, saying he was embarrassed and duped like the rest of us. But things just don’t seem to add up.
First of all, a story in the South Bend Tribune, an Indiana newspaper, vividly depicted the first meeting between Te’o and Kekua after a football game. Since Te’o never actually met her because she was fake, why wouldn’t he have claimed that the story was wrong?
Also, it’s hard to believe that he could go through a long relationship without meeting her. Te’o claims that meetings between him and Kekua in his native Hawaii always seemed to fall through, so you would think he’d start to get suspicious.
Finally, if the whole thing was truly a hoax, why did Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man behind it all, go to such great lengths to prank Te’o? There just seems to be no motivation for a lie that elaborate.
If you ask me, I think Te’o is guilty and that he was doing this all for publicity. Many reports have come out from Notre Dame teammates that Te’o loved attention and that he continued to talk about Kekua, even when he found out it was a hoax back in late December.
But despite whether he was in on it or not, we, as sports fans, were all fooled. Right on the heels of finding out that cancer hero Lance Armstrong was a fraud, the sports world kicked us all when we were down and exposed another special story as a fake.
It’s a shame this has happened and that people have to resort to these tactics. But the biggest shame now is how the public will react to inspiring sports stories. Sports heroes will need to regain our trust as fans. Whether that’s even fully possible remains to be seen.