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Manti Te’o And The Openly Gay Athlete
Deadspin reported yesterday in a lengthy article that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax. Te’o gained national attention, and ultimately a No. 2 finish in the Heisman voting, while leading Notre Dame’s defense at middle linebacker. Te’o reportedly turned the corner as an athlete in drawing inspiration from his girlfriend’s lost battle with leukemia–and subsequent, highly publicized dying wishes–in September, just days (or hours) after (or before) his grandmother had passed. (You really need to check out this article, the depth of the scam is incredible.) The article outlined Twitter interactions between Te’o and Lennay Kekua, whom Te’o had reported to be his girlfriend of some time. Deadspin found that no such girl had ever existed and that pictures on Lennay Kekua’s Twitter account were of another girl. It is incredibly impressive that Deadspin was able to track down the actual girl, match those photographs and track down the guy, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, they believed to be behind the fake identity.
The Notre Dame athletic director held a lengthy press conference that portrayed Te’o as the victim of an elaborate hoax and held steadfast in Te’o's defense that the girl did not exist. These reports have been contradicted by Arizona Cardinals fullback, Reegan Maui’a, who announced to ESPN after the Notre Dame press conference that “No, she is real.” Further, the supposed dead girlfriend tweeted around midnight that she would come forth with lots of information at noon PST. In this totally bizarre sports-meets-internet dating story, only one thing is certain: Te’o clearly should have been more guarded in his relationships, whichever relationships you want to talk about.
I can’t be confident in anything that follows from this, and should Te’o's heart actually have been broken, my sincerest condolences go out to Manti. If anything, this serves as a reminder to protect yourself against the messed up people of the world. That is Te’o's new role as a public figure, or at least a best case scenario for him.
However, as I see it, Te’o was aware that the girl was a fake. Even further, and I’m mostly joking here, the girl was a beard for Te’o's relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. For those out of the know, a “beard” is an imaginary heterosexual partner for a gay person. Manti Te’o was in a relationship with Lennay Kekua, but Lennay was a cover for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Think about it. In today’s internet age, we have been guided to protect ourselves and guard against people taking advantage of us. Young people are protected from Facebook; age restrictions are intended to protect the innocent. Te’o doesn’t respond to every attractive girl that approaches him on the Internet. Imagine he talked to a girl on the phone and had talked to this girl for some time, he would likely need to interact with other people around her, check his facts and meet the person. He’s Manti Te’o. He has the means to go places. College football players have the money to meet a girl they are dating.
His innocence is impressive.
Why would Te’o constantly interact with the girl after she repeatedly didn’t show up in Hawai’i like she had claimed? These “I miss you” tweets? They’re intended for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. The car accident? Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, as Deadspin suggests.
As for why Te’o had the fake girlfriend die, I haven’t quite figured that out yet. It’s possible that Te’o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo broke up and Te’o played with that chip on his shoulder as inspiration. I mean…. have you ever seen a guy play football after his boyfriend broke up with him? Scary stuff. Heisman level stuff.
But in all seriousness, at this point anything is possible with this bizarre story. Consider the likelihood of each of the following:
- Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and his comrades maintained this hoax for months on end falling asleep with Te’o on the other end of a phone every night.
- Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o were in cahoots with the fake relationship, and Te’o's heartfelt speeches about the beauty of his girl were in reference to his grandmother, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, or some other person.
- Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was in some way responsible for the death of the grandmother.
- Lennay Kekua is a real person using a pseudonym that faked her own death.
- Te’o used Lennay as a publicity stunt and managed to fool the numerous media outlets who interviewed him about the girl.
- Te’o, Maui’a, and Troy Polamalu are all gay and connected via Lennay
I’m really not sure what to make of the whole story and need to be clear that all this hearsay needs to be cleared up by Te’o, who will reportedly speak at some point on Thursday. But, for some reason, I can’t get away from the possibility that Te’o is gay. It’s not his nice smile or his public persona as a very introspective man. It’s not the strange limbo he occupies between the Mormon and Catholic communities. I really can’t explain why that is what I keep coming back to. Can it be that Vassar’s liberal community has shifted my view of the greater US population? (Probably.) But again, I’m not sure.
One thing is for certain: If Te’o were gay, that’d be a big deal. NFL teams would have to weigh the effects of an openly gay teammate on their roster. A gay NFL linebacker would go a long way in changing the stigma of homosexuality. An NFL linebacker is the epitome of masculinity. They are physical freaks. Their intensity is viewed as an archetype of hard work. They are the opposite of what is considered “gay.”
Te’o's place both in the Samoan community and NFL community would be altered entirely. He would assume a role of gay spokesman and be the butt of many jokes. Should Te’o be that first strong gay figure? Is he even gay? Could he handle that responsibility? Could anybody?
I don’t have a problem with Te’o being gay. I would respect the guy more if he had conjured this hoax as a cover. However, if he had to make up a fake girlfriend to cover his relationship with a man, or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, speaks to the state of our society. It’s time for an openly gay athlete and that guy could be Manti Te’o. I’d rather have a gay player on my team than a guy who can’t tell the difference between a real and fake person. I just wonder what Torii Hunter, Mike Piazza, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Te’o's dad, and Pope Benedict would have to say about Te’o's gayness that necessitated his love of “Lennay Kekua.”
Question(s) of the Day: When’s the appropriate time for an openly gay athlete?