The Manti Te’o Girlfriend Hoax: Sorting Through Fact, Conjecture, and Emotion To Find The Truth

As Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, and Catfish gain momentum in the national media, we are all left with more questions than answers.

If you have been hibernating for the past 24 hours, had your iPhone on that new “Do Not Disturb” setting, or simply don’t care enough about sports to view ESPN 24/7, then you can find out about the incident here, here, and here.

As more facts continue to come out (admittedly, there are very few at this point, although it is fun to all of the sudden view Deadspin as a legitimate news source), what I thought made perfect sense – that Te’o concocted the entire thing up himself in order to gain national attention and help launch an otherwise unlikely Heisman campaign – has started to get cloudy.

In no way does the following represent the views of Midwest Sports Fans overall, nor does it claim to be based in any legitimate journalistic research outside of piecing together what is already out there. The goal is to present what I believe to be the two most logical options for what really happened, based on what we think we know right now.


In one of the funnier takes so far on the crazy Manti Te’o story, @ChrisSpags described this picture as “Manti Te’o and Lennary in a warm embrace.” (Image credit: US Presswire via Yahoo)

Option One: Manti Te’o was in on the hoax the entire time.

When the Deadspin story first came out yesterday, I, like many people, was simply stunned. As my editor pointed out on Twitter, it takes a lot in the year 2013 for news of any sort to catch me off guard. It’s almost as if the entire world permanently resides in the Tyson Zone.

People believe the world is going to end in December? Yup – people are crazy.

People believe that Obama is not a real American citizen? Plausible – people will make anything up for political gain.

Hasheem Thabeet isn’t good at basketball? 100% believable – I have seen him play myself.

Te’o concocted a scenario in which he invented an imaginary girlfriend, developed a relationship with her, and then “killed her” a few days before a huge game against Michigan St.


In order to agree with option one – and by the way, if you DO agree with option one, you aren’t automatically a Notre Dame hater as I have several Irish-fan friends that believe option one – you MUST agree with the following logical conclusions.

I will list them from most believable to most extraordinary.

1. Manti Te’o is too smart to legitimately be “duped” this badly.

Anyone that has watched Te’o play and listened to him in interviews the past several years understands that he is an intelligent young man. He has a 3.3 GPA at Notre Dame and was recently dubbed an Academic All-American.

But more than that, I think this argument lies in the fact that most of us believe that we are too smart to be duped by something this badly, and it’s easy to make fun of someone that actually was.

Of course, there is an entire show on MTV centered around this very premise, but those people are all idiots.  This couldn’t have happened to someone like Te’o who undoubtedly has surrounded himself with safeguards and friends that look out for him since he is in such a famous position…right?

2. Because Manti Te’o wasn’t tricked, he made this up himself.  

This is simply the logical conclusion to make if step one is true.

Why would Te’o have done this? Who knows? Did he legitimately believe that it would help him win the Heisman? He couldn’t have possibly thought he would get away with it, could he?  He couldn’t have possibly thought that Heisman votes would help his draft status, could he?

These are all questions that need to be answered.

3. If Te’o made this up himself, he is a legitimately heartless human being because there would be no need to concoct a sympathy story on the SAME DAY his grandmother died.  

To me, this is where this option starts to cross from “completely believable” to “ok, now there is some reasonable doubt” range.

Te’o is allegedly a huge family man, and he was visibly shaken up in the Michigan State game because of his grandmother’s death. It’s hard for me to believe that any human being would think that it would be a great idea to concoct such a scheme less than 24 hours after the loss of someone so close to him.

It’s certainly possible, I suppose, but if this is what happened then it’s what Te’o should be vilified for above all reasons.

4. If this was completely made up, then it was either covered up SO WELL that Notre Dame with its infinite resources, deep pockets, and experienced investigators/lawyers couldn’t figure it out.


5. Notre Dame is in on the hoax as well. 

Why else would Jack Swarbrick, one of the five most arrogant jerks in college athletics, so steadfastly stand behind Te’o last night?

If you are still going along with this line of thinking, that Te’o was in on it the whole time, the entire thing would have to be a cover up from top to bottom, and Notre Dame, NOT JUST TE’O, will soon be recognized for the fraud that it is.

Now, as you’ll see, only one of those last two options can be true, since they don’t coincide.

While it’s possible that a college senior and a few of his friends and family could cover up something so completely that the deep-pocketed University of Notre Dame couldn’t unearth anything in almost three weeks that made them wary of the hoax…the more plausible option is #5.

In this case, Notre Dame has been in on it the whole time and are in serious danger of destroying a program to Ohio State/Penn State-like levels.

Why would Jack Swarbrick stand behind a player that would never play another down for the University otherwise?

Swarbrick has a long and storied history of not caring about anyone or anything but Notre Dame. Irish fans know that Swarbrick would give anybody up in a second if it meant saving Notre Dame in some way, shape, or form.  And yet, there he stood last night, firmly behind Te’o, crying and begging the world to show compassion.

If you believe option one, that Te’o was in on it, then you believe that Notre Dame is in on the hoax as well. The Golden Domers are definitely in trouble.

Option Two: Manti Te’o was legitimately “catfished.”

Rather than deductively coming to this conclusion while looking at all of the facts, believers of this theory are much more likely to inductively determine that because of last night’s press conference, things simply don’t add up.

1. Unless Notre Dame simply couldn’t find anything saying otherwise and is being duped by Te’o as well (this seems very implausible), there is no way that Swarbrick would cover for Te’o. So at the very least, Notre Dame believes that Te’o was hoaxed.

The details of this point don’t need to be pounded away any more, but as I said before, Swarbrick would have bailed on Te’o in a second if he thought that the linebacker would take Notre Dame down with him.

2. Te’o would have to be the most heartless person in the world to make something like this up THE DAY HIS GRANDMOTHER DIED.

Te’o was also visibly shaken up during the Michigan State game, and his teammates rushed to console him and play for him.

Of course, this point mainly comes from wanting to think that all people really are good at heart. But as the Sandy Hook and other tragedies prove on a daily basis, there are a lot of messed up people in this world. Believers of this theory are just hoping that Te’o isn’t one of those people.

3. At a minimum, Te’o appeared to have embellished a relationship that he is now claiming was solely internet/telephone based.  

Even if you do believe in option two, you can’t deny that Te’o has lied in some way. Either he met her on the field after the Stanford game and he lied last night about only knowing her through social media, or vice versa.

And where did he send the flowers? Why would a girl ever talk about what to do if she died before a big game?

All of these questions need to be answered as well.

It’s possible that when he learned of her death and the press got ahold of it, he chose to embellish the story because a cyber-relationship would be mocked by some and thought of as less serious than normal relationships by many. It doesn’t really matter.

Te’o embellished the relationship that he allegedly had with the young lady that he was contacting with, and he deserves to be called out for this.

4. At a minimum, Te’o and the University of Notre Dame covered this up from December 26 until yesterday.  

Of course, the reasons behind this are obvious.

Why derail a possible Heisman campaign for your most likable star since, I dunno, Tim Brown? Joe Montana? Ever? That would be lunacy.

Why create such a media frenzy before the most important game your program would be playing in 20 years? That would be even crazier.  

Everyone agrees that Te’o and Notre Dame were told it was a hoax on December 26. While their motives may have been positive, they still covered up the story for nearly a month. Both Te’o and Notre Dame should answer for this as well.


So what do you think?  

At this point, intelligent people can definitely get behind either option.

Feel free to discuss in the comment section, or email me at for your theories (twitter is probably too short for a discussion this complex).

One thing is for sure: as weird as this entire story has been, it was kind of nice to be shocked for a change.

About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. Really nice job on this piece Jon. It’s tough to piece together with so many unanswered questions. I am starting to believe more and more that Te’o was legitimately hoaxed/catfished there for a while, and then didn’t know how to get out of it once the story got to big. Of course, just as I typed that, three or four unanswered questions popped up in my head that make that seem implausible. I’ll see this, and you alluded to it with the Tyson Zone reference: no matter what the outcome is (He was in on it! It’s a cover story for him being gay! It was a little bit of everything! Notre Dame planned it all from the beginning!) it won’t shock me anymore. But you’re right, it was, in a weird way, nice to be shocked again when the story broke.

  2. The crime is never the lie, it’s the cover up. If T’ao were smart, he would come completely clean and just say it was a couple of twenty-two year-olds who dug themselves into a deep hole and coudn’t get out. He should apologize and move on. Otherwise, all of the people that he wronged (aka the networks) will be probing every aspect of his life and her non-life.

  3. That’s a wise answer to a tricky quesiton

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