With one long, well-researched article, the sports news website Deadspin.com dealt huge blows to the reputations of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and sports journalists across the country.
Published Wednesday afternoon, the 4,000-word article details how the story of Te’o’s girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who reportedly died within hours of his grandmother in September, was not a real person.
As it turns out, Te’o never met Kekua, despite comments from him and his family over the last year that suggested otherwise. She was merely an online personality, and the relationship played out completely on Twitter.
Despite an article written by the South Bend Tribune detailing how the two met after a game between Notre Dame and Kekua’s alleged school, Stanford, there are no records of anyone by that name ever being at Stanford, or of anyone with that name who died. And the South Bend Tribune was far from the only publication that bought into the story of Te’o’s relationship. Newspapers and other media outlets across the country reported it as fact.
After that, it’s unclear what is true and what is not. The Deadspin article suggests, and presents some evidence for the assertion that Te’o was involved in the hoax in an attempt to gain publicity. Te’o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick each said Wednesday that Te’o was the victim.
We may never know for sure. If Te’o was involved, he’s a disturbed person with much less moral character than the man we’ve seen paraded on ESPN over the last few months. If he somehow got tricked into thinking he was in a serious relationship with a woman he never met in person, then he’s more foolish and naïve than I can easily imagine.
Regardless of the other details, the situation is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to Te’o and his family, it’s embarrassing to Notre Dame, and it’s embarrassing to every member of the media who perpetuated the story of Te’o’s relationship without taking a little time to make sure it was actually true.
It’s also a shocking reminder of the cliché we so often neglect; don’t believe everything you hear.