One of the biggest stories in the recently completed college football season was Notre Dame, which was No. 1 in the land for a time.
The biggest story on the Notre Dame team was Manti Te’o, the NFL-bound linebacker who, we were told, drew motivation from the bravery with which his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was battling leukemia, to which she succumbed in September, and from the death of his grandmother on the same day.
Back in November, Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune told Only A Game how the team’s fans at Notre Dame’s game against Michigan on September 22 responded to the steadfastness with which Manti Te’o was handling his challenges: “Almost the whole stadium was filled with people wearing leis in tribute to Manti Te’o, the All-American linebacker who lost his girlfriend and grandma with 24 hours.”
In part because he’s a terrific football player, and no doubt in part because of that narrative, Te’o won lots of admirers…among them, Eric Hansen:
“He has been a transformative player on and off the field, and in the locker room,” Hansen told OAG. “He’s certainly the best defensive player in America, maybe the best player in America. He’s helped turn around recruiting, he’s a scholar-athlete, he’s kinda the kid that you wanna adopt and be your son.”
Losing his grandmother must have been hard for Manti Te’o. Losing his girlfriend was impossible because it turned she’d never existed. Lennay Kekua was the creation of an internet hoaxer, which Manti Te’o either learned on December 6, or knew about much earlier. On Friday night, Te’o told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap he had no part in the hoax, though he had “tailored” his stories so that people wouldn’t think he was “some crazy dude”.
Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Rosenberg is among the many people trying to figure out who knew what when about Manti Te’o's imaginary girlfriend and her imaginary death.
“It’s very clear that Te’o lied about this girl,” Rosenberg said on this week’s Only A Game. “Unfortunately when you’ve lied a little bit it’s hard to say, ‘But I was telling the truth about something else’ and have people believe you. So we may never really know.”
Sports Illustrated writer Pete Thamel, who has been a guest on OAG, was one of the many reporters who was duped by the story. But, Rosenberg does not fault his colleague or any of the other journalists who failed to catch on to the hoax.
“Honestly, my detector would not have gone off at that point and said, ‘Something’s fishy here, something’s not right.’” And obviously a lot of people wrote it as part of the Te’o story, and for whatever reason nobody ever figured out that this was not true until Deadspin did.”
Te’o was the runner-up for the Heisman award and has been a projected first-round pick in this April’s NFL draft. But, Rosenberg says teams are less eager to invest in players who seem questionable in any way.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see him drop in the draft a little bit, but this is not the end of his career. He hasn’t been accused of a crime.”
Rosenberg warns Te’o that he should expect heckling from fans when he takes the field in the NFL, but…
“Whether those fans are real are not, I can’t say.”