We've seen rumors and heard stories about countless athletes in the past. But not since Troy Aikman have I been bombarded on email, text, Twitter and phone calls about the sexual orientation of any athlete the way I was today about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. The questions are in response to Deadspin's article on Wednesday revealing that the story of the deceased girlfriend of Te'o was a complete hoax, and that Te'o (allegedly) lied about 1) knowing the woman, 2) that the woman existed and 3) having a girlfriend at all.
The article points to a Mormon football-player-turned-gospel-singer named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is allegedly behind the twitter account of the artificial girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. The two men know each other and saw each other as recently as November when Notre Dame played USC. Tuiasosopo and his family were on-field guests at the game:
USC was unable to confirm this, but a tweet from Tuiasosopo's since-deleted account suggests he and Te'o did see each other on that West Coast trip. "Great night with my bro @MTeo_5! #Heisman #574L," Ronaiah tweeted on Nov. 23, the night before the game.
The lengths to which Tuiasosopo allegedly went to create this account are detailed in the Deadspin article and include allegedly lying to family members. And according to at least one person Deadspin spoke to, Te'o was in on it the whole time.
Te'o's explanation today via statement left a lot to be desired:
This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
This does not answer why he talked about meeting the girl. This is not someone he stumbled across online; This was a woman he lied about meeting at Stanford in 2009 and spending hours and hours talking to on the phone.
The most damning piece of the whole article may be these two paragraphs, that lay out in no uncertain terms the littany of lies and mistruths Te'o has told about his fictitious girlfriend:
There was no Lennay Kekua. Lennay Kekua did not meet Manti Te'o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te'o in Hawaii. Lennay Kekua was not in a car accident. Lennay Kekua did not talk to Manti Te'o every night on the telephone. She was not diagnosed with cancer, did not spend time in the hospital, did not engage in a lengthy battle with leukemia. She never had a bone marrow transplant. She was not released from the hospital on Sept. 10, nor did Brian Te'o congratulate her for this over the telephone. She did not insist that Manti Te'o play in the Michigan State or Michigan games, and did not request he send white flowers to her funeral. Her favorite color was not white. Her brother, Koa, did not inform Manti Te'o that she was dead. Koa did not exist. Her funeral did not take place in Carson, Calif., and her casket was not closed at 9 a.m. exactly. She was not laid to rest.
Lennay Kekua's last words to Manti Te'o were not "I love you."
I've heard from sports writers, fans of Outsports, leaders in the gay-sports world, and even old high school friends, in the last six hours all wondering, "Is Te'o going to be the first openly gay NFL player?" Read for yourself and come to your own conclusion.
I personally don't know. But it seems to be the question everyone is asking. If he is, I hope he finds strength and acceptance; The vast majority of his friends, teammates and fans will support him whole-heartedly. If he's not, I hope he can answer some questions, because people want to know why on earth he would concoct this totally fabricated story -- including eight-hour phone calls -- if they never happened.
I can certainly understand why people think this might be pointing to his sexual orientation. There has never been a publicly out NFL player. There has never been a publicly out Div. 1 football player. But we know they're out there. And if they were out there and wanted to hide their sexual orientation -- or a relationship with another man -- a fictitious girlfriend is a good way to do it. The fantastic story about car accidents and death by leukemia would just be showing off that stereotypical gay flair for the dramatic.
The whole thing reminds me of our own little Outsports hoax a few years ago: A hockey player named Mikey. I'm not the only one reminded of it, as famous Outsporter Joe In Philly tweeted us the same thing. That also involved an elaborate internet scheme to deceive people of an identity. It hurt a heck of a lot of people, too.
Either way, for Te'o, this will all work out in the end. It may be hard coming to terms with the truth, but it will all be just fine and he'll proudly take the field in an NFL uniform in August. I promise.