(Originally published at the Weal.)
Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend scandal was one of the biggest international news items since the hoax came out on Jan. 16.
For those that somehow managed to avoid it, here’s a summary – Manti Te’o is a linebacker for the University of Notre Dame. While he lived in Hawaii, he was one of the most praised high school football players in Hawaiian history. At Notre Dame, he quickly became a star, becoming one of the most decorated collegiate athletes ever – pretty impressive stuff for a 21-year-old. Instead of leaving for a two-year Mormon mission (which is customary to do at age 19) or moving on to the NFL, Te’o chose to stay at Notre Dame and graduate, making him a beloved figure at his school.
None of that is news, however. On Jan. 16, Deadspin published an article that shocked and horrified its readers – Te’o had maybe lied about having a girlfriend who had died of leukemia. Here the details get a bit murky. Te’o’s relationship with his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was an entirely online one, even though in early interviews he alluded to spending time with her in person. Te’o had given an interview saying that she had passed away of leukemia, endearing him to fans with his sad story. Now, it’s unsure as to whether or not she ever existed – phone calls and photos of her are faked, belonging to a different girl entirely, and an investigation by Notre Dame seems to show that she never existed at all.
So why do we care so much about his fake girlfriend? Some argue that it made him more sympathetic towards winning the Heisman trophy. So? Te’o is basically a kid. He doesn’t get paid to play football yet, and if that is what really matters they can recall the award. But the Heisman award isn’t what has everyone worked up. Speculation that Te’o is gay, or that he made up the girlfriend himself rather than being the victim of a hoax, are what has dominated the “news” coverage of this incident.
Te’o is a football player. Whether he pretended to have a girlfriend, or is actually gay, has absolutely no affect on how good of a football player he is – and he’s a darn good one. An obsession with celebrity gossip has completely sidelined Te’o’s impressive athletic resume, and unfortunately, he’ll probably be remembered for a small mistake he made off the field instead of his impressive on-field accomplishments. If people are going to keep concentrating on Te’o’s “girlfriend” rather than his performance, it’s time they stop pretending to care about sports. Might as well turn off TSN and pick up a gossip rag, because that’s all this story is.
25 Feb 2013 / 0 notes