Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why we care about Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend

Quick recap. Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman-trophy hopeful Manti Te'o tragically had his grandmother and girlfriend both pass away on September 11 of last year, making his story one of biggest of the college football season. Until yesterday, of course, when Deadspin made it the biggest college football story of the millennium by reporting his girlfriend never actually died because she was never actually real to begin with.
When the story broke yesterday it was immediately everywhere and most people still couldn't get enough. It was the last thing I checked before I went to bed last night and the first thing I checked this morning. I'm sure I wasn't alone, which led SB Nation to ask this morning why we care so much. It's a question I didn't really think about until after I read it, but there are certainly a lot of reasons. So here's my response.

For starters, we all love a good scandal. All we need to do is look at what dominated the news cycle before the Te'o news broke. We had days (was it weeks?) of different people reporting that Lance Armstrong was going to confess he doped to Oprah. First it came out that he would admit it in the interview. Or not. Then he did, according to sources. Then Oprah weighed in. There were dozens of stories with the same basic premise that he confessed. I read nearly all of them and still want to see the interview (which I'm sure is exactly how Oprah planned it).

Second, it was shocking. I mean how often do you hear about famous athletes persevering through the loss of a loved one? Torrey Smith did it in the NFL this year and everyone remembers Brett Favre on Monday Night Football after losing his father, so it's a pretty common occurance. Players are human and we all suffer losses, so it happens. How often has the loved one turned out to be fictional? Once, that I know of.

There's also the mystery of how much Te'o was involved. He and Notre Dame are denying his involvement, but Deadspin implies that he knew. So now we all want to know how much he knew. I've been somewhat anti-Manti since his father blacklisted the Honolulu Star Advertiser for publishing a picture of Te'o missing a tackle.
Does that have something to do with the fact that I'm not buying Te'o's innocence in the hoax? Probably. But seeing as Te'o and Notre Dame were already less than forthcoming with what they knew, as well as Brian Te'o's attempt to control what the Star Advertiser publishes also make me think the son and father were more involved than they're letting on.

Finally, the hoax touches on another hot-button issue: sexual orientation. Reading the story I wondered if this could be an elaborate scheme to protect Te'o. Again, not alone on this one. Now clearly I have no idea if this idea is true, but it's definitely a possibility which definitely adds to the intrigue.

Those are just a few reasons why we're so invested in the story, and I'm sure there are dozens more.


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