The bizarre controversy surrounding Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o continues to get stranger. ESPN's Jeremy Schaap conducted a two-and-a-half hour interview with the All-American, which ultimately paints a sympathetic picture of Te'o.
Schaap went on SportsCenter to discuss what he learned in the extensive interview, feeling his questioning was complete and that Te'o was not a part of the conspiracy hoax involving online girlfriend Lennay Kekua.
Why Te'o promoted the storyline
It turns out that it was Te'o's own insecurity about the relationship with a person he had never met before that has created a lot of confusion, according to Schaap.
The following is a quote from Te'o, preceded by a question from Schaap from the video below. It regards Te'o's embarrassment over how serious the online relationship had gotten and serves as his attempt at justifying why he acted as though he had met Kekua before:
JS: You described your relationship in a way that suggested you had met her. Explain.
MT: That goes back to what I did with my dad. I knew that—I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet, and that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn't meet her as well. So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away.
Technically speaking, Te'o was pandering to the narrative that had taken the national media by storm and inspired many people.
But it doesn't appear to be driven by the need for attention, as one of Te'o's Notre Dame teammates suggested to ESPN's Bob Holtzman. The ploy by Te'o was to avoid shame, according to the man himself.
Anchor Jay Harris asked Schaap how Te'o looked as far as demeanor, and Schaap indicated that he was totally composed and forthcoming about his side of the story.
Beginning and escalation of relationship
The relationship reportedly started on Facebook during Te'o's sophomore year in South Bend, which Te'o provided proof of from a series of messages he and Kekua exchanged on the social networking website.
Things got more serious during the 2011 Purdue game, and then his commitment to her intensified after learning of the alleged car crash on April 28 in Los Angeles that put her into a coma.
Presumed co-conspirators called Te'o that day, each claiming some relation to Kekua—one a cousin and another a sibling. From that day until September 12, which was the alleged day of her death, Te'o explained that they were constantly on the phone.
December 6 phone call and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's apology
Once Te'o received another fateful phone call from a woman claiming to be Lennay Kekua nearly three months after her death, he wasn't sure what to believe. As far as he knew, his girlfriend had died of leukemia, and he was uncertain how to react.
Where it gets really strange is when Schaap notes that the woman who called Te'o that day explained she had to fake her own death to evade drug dealers. Schaap describes it as "fantastical" but noted it was convincing how Te'o laid it out.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported a story that verifies that account.
Tuiasosopo is the man who ran the hoax on Te'o, as reported by ESPN's Shelley Smith. He apologized to Te'o through a series of Twitter messages, according to Schaap.
But here is the main takeaway from all of this: Te'o has continued to use intermediaries to get his message of innocence out there. If he is insecure about the nature of his relationship with his online girlfriend, the cat is already out of the bag.
Rather than releasing statements and having Schaap shape his narrative for him on national TV—or recording the interview without TV cameras (h/t Yahoo!), it should be Te'o out in the spotlight to address this.
Not being able to see his face and his mannerisms is only going to create more drama around the issue, so it should happen sooner rather than later. The intermediary of social media is how he got himself into this girlfriend hoax in the first place.
As strange as the situation may be to many people, if Te'o can speak for himself and explain his actions, he would be able to truly sway the court of public opinion in his favor.
It's not as if he's a politician, but Te'o is a public figure under intense scrutiny who is trying to make a living playing professional football—and his NFL Draft stock isn't exactly through the roof right now.
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