Of the embarrassing revelations that Notre Dame Heisman hopeful Manti Te’o tugged at America’s heartstrings with tales of a terminally ill girlfriend that didn’t actually exist, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick was nearly in tears last night after vouching for Te’o credibility (and becoming the first A.D. in memory to reference “Catfish”, either the film or “the MTV series”). On Thursday morning, it seems Swarbrick’s high opinion of Te’o is not universally held, with College Spun’s Tyler Moorehead suggesting that even if Te’o thought his online GF was real, he was a little overzealous in milking the (ficticious) tragedy.
The debate among teammates wasn’t whether or not Manti actually knew this girl — it was clear that they had been in contact; no, players just didn’t think that it was fair to call Lennay Kekua Manti’s girlfriend, period (it is well-known on campus that he has had relations with other girls during his time at Notre Dame). They recognized what was going on for what it was — a terrible publicity stunt used to fuel Manti Te’o’s Heisman campaign. In fact, many of the players privately commented that they didn’t want the students to wear leis in support of Manti and wouldn’t participate themselves — they cited that the team never responded so publicly to tragic events for other players.
But there was also the feeling that Manti didn’t deserve to benefit from publicity from the death of somebody he barely knew.Manti must have known how beneficial this publicity would be in a season that marked Notre Dame’s return to the national elite, and one that also put him squarely in the Heisman race. As a defensive player, you can’t win the prestigious award without exceptional circumstances — and here one had conveniently fallen into his lap. So he went with it, fed off of it, and it riveted the nation. Love for Manti Te’o exceeded that of any player I have ever seen, and even non-Irish fans hailed him as an inspiration. And here’s where it all gets even trickier.
Manti knew that it was over-the-top — his teammates had gotten that sense a long time prior. And now he was in too deep. More and more questions were asked about this fascinating story, and he kept answering them, calling Kekua “the love of his life”, even though he was digging a deeper and deeper hole for himself. And it didn’t help that his family, and specifically his father, Brian Te’o, was also talking about the incident, or lying as it appears.