That’s what everyone is looking for from Manti Te’o and the University of Notre Dame right now.
The sports world was shocked on Wednesday when Deadspin reported that the inspirational sports story surrounding Te’o and the passing of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was a complete fabrication. Not only was this fairy tale a hoax, but Kekua, is reportedly non-existent.
Reaction has been varied. Some have taken a pragmatic approach, trying to sift through the mass of apparent facts and conjecture to find the truth. Others are inclined to give Te’o the benefit of the doubt.
My immediate reaction was that Te’o, a man who gained the admiration and support from many across the land, had conjured up this heart-breaking fantasy in order to catapult his popularity to the forefront of the nation and, more importantly, the Heisman voters.
Many were shocked, disgusted, and angered that they had been deceived by a man whose goal appeared to be to promote his chances of winning awards and re-establishing Notre Dame as a university and a football program that the nation could rally behind. It seemed like a cheap trick to restore the leprechaun’s face in the spotlight again, this time for the good and not the controversial.
Last night, after hearing Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick speak about how this incident wasn’t on the shoulders of Te’o, but rather, someone who was playing a sick game with him, I now believe that the University is in on this lie, as well.
“Why?” you might be wondering. Why would one of the most prestigious universities, home to perhaps the most tradition-based college football program in the nation, agree to follow this outrageous scheme for attention?
First off, let me state that I do not believe that the University of Notre Dame nor any administration associated with the University, gathered amongst a table, started organizing a story board, and formulated the hoax. What I do believe, however, is that when the story was reported, Te’o and the Irish athletic department discussed the reality of the situation and from there, started devising what action should be taken.
Of course, Notre Dame and Te’o took on the role of victim in this deranged novel, in order to keep Te’o's reputation as an inspiration and all-around swell guy in good standing.
Again, you may be asking, “why?” Why wouldn’t the University just sever its ties with Te’o if this ill-mannered conspiracy was done on his watch?
The answer is quite simple. The whole story as it was being reported took Notre Dame, a school with an athletic department which has come under much scrutiny lately, out from under the microscope and back into the good graces of the world of sports and academia.
Let’s rewind back to 2010.
In 2010, a Notre Dame student committed suicide after allegedly being raped by a Notre Dame football player. After the incident, the University came under a lot of fire because of its lack of investigating the situation.
Many speculated that Notre Dame’s football program carried too much clout in the world of college sports and the university didn’t want to risk it’s reputation on discovering the truth.
Also in 2010, one of Notre Dame’s student video managers lost his life when a video tower fell to the ground due to the weather conditions one day in South Bend.
Again, more criticism came the way of the Irish, this time, directed more towards Brian Kelly and the football coaching staff for putting this young man in harm’s way.
On another, much less important and critical level, Notre Dame’s football program had been stuck in mediocrity for nearly two decades. The last time the Irish had won a national championship was 1988, and they were no longer the poster-child for college football or the sport’s winning tradition. Missed post-seasons, .500 records, and lost bowl games were damaging Notre Dame’s reputation as a national power on the gridiron.
Just as the Irish were receiving more ridicule for on-field performance and off-field ethics, Te’o, Kekua, and an affectionate, heart-warming story took Notre Dame’s campus by storm.
This story was too perfect for Notre Dame not to relish in and leverage to regain some of its popularity. This story, with Te’o leading his team to a national championship appearance in memory of his late girlfriend, touched a nation and made us forget about all of the bad that had been swarming around the University for several years.
It would have been even sweeter for the Irish if they were able to win the national championship and Te’o win the Hesiman Trophy.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, good stories alone don’t win football games or individual awards.
Of course Notre Dame and the athletic department stand behind Manti Te’o and “believe” he was duped into believing he had been in a serious online relationship. Of course Notre Dame plays the victim in this motion picture. It’s the only way to try and save face.
But, as is typical in sports stories these days, we will never know the real truth.
For the final time, you ask, “why?”
Simply, nothing that has occurred is a criminal offense and I am guessing that there are no major university or NCAA sanctions against this sort of “mind game” that Te’o and the Irish athletic department have been playing on the sports world. Even if someone comes forth and admits to the accusations that they tricked Te’o into believing he was in a relationship, how can we be sure it wasn’t a setup by the University?
Again, if absolutely nothing is at stake outside of reputation, wouldn’t Notre Dame entice someone to come forth and “admit to everything?”
The one thing that is certain in all of this is that the University of Notre Dame and Manti Te’o received the publicity they were looking for out of this. As an individual and a sports fan, I hope this dark secret is uncovered and we know what really happened with Manti Te’o and Lennay Kekua