For better or worse, sports make up a good deal of my identity.
Many of the teams I cheer for are a direct result of the area I grew up in. I’m a huge Milwaukee Brewers fan, a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers, love following the Wisconsin Badgers, and I have a passing interest in the Milwaukee Bucks.
But there’s one element of my fanhood that has been ingrained in me since birth, and it has nothing to do with where I grew up.
I’ve been a fan of the University of Notre Dame my entire life. My father attended Notre Dame in the late ’70s, and some of my fondest memories growing up are attending Fighting Irish football games on Saturdays in the fall.
I wasn’t lucky enough to be able to attend the university myself, but that hasn’t caused my love for Notre Dame to waver one bit.
Hearing the news about Manti Te’o yesterday afternoon shocked me.
I spent the better part of the evening trying not to pass judgement while consuming as much information as possible on the story.
I read all of the conspiracy theories on Twitter and Reddit, talked to friends and family, and then looked for sources as close to the proverbial horse’s mouth as possible. I watched Jack Swarbrick’s press conference and was moved. I read Pat Forde’s column for Yahoo! and began to believe more.
I know what I want to believe, but I, like everyone else, still have questions.
Something still does not quite add up.
On the surface, no one had any reason not to believe Manti Te’o. Everything that has come out about this young man, from Sports Illustrated cover stories to his play on the field, has been positive. He had the appearance of a young man who was not only infinitely talented on the gridiron but also the kind of man that any father would approve of his daughter dating.
There was no reason to suspect that Lennay Kekua was anything but a genuine part of Te’o's life. We’re not at the point in society where we assume that all people are fake unless proven real, and rightfully so.
With people asking “Why didn’t they look more into Kekua’s story?” I answer with this: why did they need to? Yes, I know the journalistic adage of “If your mother says she loves you, check your sources.” But Te’o seemed so genuine and the fact that he was the player leading Notre Dame back into national relevance was a story that was not only easy to grasp onto, but almost impossible not to.
Notre Dame die-hards, casual fans, and the widespread media alike all bought this story hook, line and sinker. Again, they had no reason not to.
I believe everything about this story, and then nothing at the same time. I think I can say with a certain level of confidence that Lennay Kekua did not exist in the capacity that Manti Te’o thought she did. I don’t believe Te’o is at fault for that.
There are certainly holes in the story. How exactly Te’o met Kekua, where he sent flowers, how Te’o explained her to his parents. I get that.
But here’s the counter: he’s 21 years old. If we’re to believe Te’o, he was clearly smitten by Kekua and maybe didn’t want to divulge that this was completely an online/over-the-phone relationship.
I’d imagine people close to him wanted to meet Kekua, and when supposed trips to Hawaii didn’t work out for Kekua, for what are now obvious reasons, Te’o could have easily covered with what he thought were white lies.
I have to imagine at some point Te’o began to become skeptical of the situation as well, but if he truly believed he was in love, I can understand how some of those details got swept under the rug.
Why didn’t Te’o come out honestly about this right away? That answer seems easy: embarrassment.
He had developed into a national persona for the Number 1 team in the country. If he comes out and says this girl, which Te’o genuinely believed existed, wasn’t real, how does that make him look? Put yourself in the shoes of a 21-year old. Do you come forward right away?
As far as conspiracy theories go, I think they are plausible yet unlikely.
Simply raising his Heisman stature and public profile? He goes to the most-covered school in college football. He’d be just fine in that regard.
Is Te’o gay? Certainly plausible, but this seems too elaborate for a scenario such as that.
Some sort of avoidance of dealing with girlfriend issues because he’s Mormon? Also possible, but a bit of a stretch.
To me, it speaks volumes that Jack Swarbrick and the University of Notre Dame came out in full support of Manti Te’o. They did their research and spared no expense (trust me, they have the money) in vetting Te’o's version of events.
As a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, I was convinced by how genuine Swarbrick seemed in addressing every question the media sent his way. If he didn’t have a good answer to a question, he simply said he doesn’t know.
And I think the rest of us need to learn a lesson from that.
This is a complex story with many questions still to be answered that we don’t know. Right now I’m inclined to give Te’o the benefit of the doubt, but I’m reserving final judgement until more fact emerge.