It's because of homophobia in religion and sports.
Let me start by repeating what I said last night: I don't know if Manti Te'o is gay. I won't even speculate or guess. People are wondering, and I don't know the answer, though Salon certainly has an opinion on the likelihood of it.
But whether he is or is not, to me, isn't the question here at the moment as we await more answers from Te'o. The better question is: Why are we wondering if he is? The answer is pretty telling about where corners of our culture truly stand on gay acceptance.
Te'o has lived most of his life at the nexus of some of the most homophobic corners of society. Growing up Mormon isn't easy for any gay person. And if he is gay, he has been pelted all his life with messages telling him he is less than human. In 2008, as he was selected which college to attend, the Mormon church mounted a multi-million-dollar campaign to kill same-sex marriage rights in California. They succeeded. These are powerful messages he has heard from the most respected people in his life. It's hard to get out from under that as people like Dustin Lance Black will tell you.
If it was just the Mormon Church someone like Te'o had to contend with, that would be one thing. But there's so much more.
The school Te'o chose to attend was Notre Dame, a Catholic school. The head of the Catholic church, Pope Benedict XVI, has waged a war on homosexuality since becoming the pope in 2005. For years Notre Dame itself has forbidden the existence of a gay-straight alliance student group on campus because of the school's religion. It was only in December, about the same time that Te'o claims he learned of the "hoax" of his girlfriend, that the school relented.
Then there is the sports world. Considered by many our society's last closet. While there have been incredible strides made, and while I now consider homophobia alive and well only in certain corners of sports, most closeted athletes likely don't see what I see. Plus, given Notre Dame's terrible history with LGBT issues, one of the corners that homophobia is alive and well is likely...Notre Dame football.
Caught between these three institutions -- the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church and big-time football -- it would be no wonder that someone like Te'o might feel the need to do everything he could to hide his sexual orientation.
Knowing all of that, and given the bizarre facts surrounding the case, it's no wonder many have questioned if he has been trying to hide his sexual orientation. It is, from an outsider's perspective, given these three powerful entities in his life, a logical conclusion.
If Te'o is gay, and this was all to somehow cover up a relationship with another man, I find it hard to blame him for any of it. I blame the rest of us. The sports media that perpetuates the veil of homophobia in sports. The Pope for continuing to keep his church's institutions in homophobic shackles. The youth coaches who called him a faggot because he missed a tackle. The Mormon Church for telling its members they are not allowed to be gay and Mormon. Myself because I simply haven't done enough to bring about change as fast as I'd like.
Whatever his truth, I hope he is able to share it with us soon. My thoughts are with him until then.
Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports