News Column

Te'o Girlfriend Hoax: Manti Story Captivates Nation

Jan 18, 2013

Amanda Gray

The Manti Te'o story has captivated more than the sports media with publications ranging from People to Forbes Magazine featuring him prominently on their websites Thursday.

The linebacker caught the attention of almost every major news outlet, becoming a trending Twitter subject and the focus of much scrutiny on the day after Deadspin.com broke the story that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua and her Sept. 12 death were part of a hoax.

Te'o notified University of Notre Dame football coaches Dec. 26 that he was the victim of a hoax, according to a statement from the university.

The digital world exploded with the news, spreading fast across many forms of electronic communication. The Tribune's newsroom fielded calls from news agencies such as CNN, Wall Street Journal, The Toronto Star and The Washington Post.

Beyond the traditional news story, however, were other reactions. Some bloggers and columnists turned to the story and the media with critical words.

"It was all in Deadspin, an Internet sports blog, on Wednesday, about an amazing sports hoax, a hoax that was spread witlessly by sports writers peddling the heart-wrenching tale of the heroic linebacker, his dying girlfriend and the true love they shared," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass on Thursday. He wrote, "They probably forgot the ancient credo of the City News Bureau of Chicago: When your girlfriend, dying of leukemia after suffering a car crash, tells you she loves you -- even if it might help you win the Heisman Trophy -- you check it out."

Twitter also erupted with similar sentiments. Many Twitter users were critical of Te'o, wondering how he could have, after so many months in the relationship, been duped by such a ruse.

Many users asked Te'o to come out with the truth. Some called him a pathological liar or a fraud. Some, such as the Twitter account from The Atlantic, asked how sports media could be so oblivious to the story, linking to a blog on their site.

"I mean seriously, what?!?!?!?!? This isn't 1913, it's 2013," read the blog from Jake Simpson as part of The Atlantic's Sports Roundtable. "How exactly does every major sports media organization in the United States re-package a story that turns out to be wholly false? Budgets are stretched, but do major magazines not even fact-check their cover stories? Were all the top sportswriters in the country so enamored with this tale of woe that they didn't think to, you know, do their jobs?"

Others took the time to make light of the situation through jokes.

The Twitter hashtag #Teoing came to reference having an imaginary girlfriend or boyfriend. Users posted pictures of empty chairs and other settings with their imaginary partners.

The trending Twitter hashtag #MantiTeoPlaylist listed love songs to mend his broken heart Thursday afternoon. Suggestions ranged from "Just My Imagination" by The Temptations to "I Just Haven't Met You Yet" by Michael Buble, among other tongue-in-cheek titles.

And yet some were sympathetic to Te'o. Several commenters on South Bend Tribune stories said they believed Te'o was the victim of a hoax and deserves privacy.

Others were cautious and hopeful that Te'o's version of the hoax is true. Some took time to spell out what this may mean for Te'o's future in professional football -- or even the future of reporting in general.

"Whatever the reasons, Te'o must at this point make as honest an accounting of himself as he can," wrote Pat Forde on a Yahoo! Sports blog. "It won't be fun, or easy. But it is better to be humiliated for being a romantic rube than to be characterized as the kind of calculating scum who would orchestrate or perpetrate such a hoax in an effort at self-promotion or sympathy."

Forde continued, writing that he believes no one will come out of this for the better.

"And the next time we come across a feel-good story, we'll all have to stop and ask ourselves whether we're willing to believe it," he wrote at the end of his column. "That doesn't feel very good."



Source: (c)2013 South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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