Wiedmer: Trusting Te'o now requires an act of faith

Wiedmer: Trusting Te'o now requires an act of faith

January 17th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o waits for a snap.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

First, a confession. I voted Manti Te'o first on my Heisman Trophy ballot.

However, I want to make it clear that vote had nothing to do with the heart-wrenching story that Te'o had been forced to deal with the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend in a span of six hours in September, an unthinkable amount of sorrow for anyone to bear.

I voted for him because he had a greater impact on his team reaching the BCS title game than any other single player in the country did on their team reaching a BCS bowl, with the possible exception of Kansas State quarterback Colin Klein.

Unfortunately, this column has nothing to do with Te'o the football player. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that all those emotional stories about Te'o's girlfriend Lennay Kekua dying of leukemia were a hoax.

She didn't die of anything, mostly because she never existed, according to an apparently well-researched article first reported by Deadspin.com.

If you believe Deadspin, Kekua was quite likely the online creation of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a reported friend of Te'o, who supposedly spent time with the Fighting Irish linebacker during ND's trip to play Southern Cal last November.

To make this more uncomfortable for Te'o, Deadspin alleges that a friend of Tuiasosopo is "80 percent sure" that Te'o was involved in the hoax.

Again, these are Deadspin's assertions, but Te'o himself has admitted that there is no Kekua, though he maintains he was a victim of this diabolical deception.

And Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick boldly (or foolishly) stepped forward Wednesday night to announce he completely stood by his All-American.

Fighting back tears more than once, Swarbrick said, "Nothing about what I learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota."

He quickly added, "There is a lot of sorrow, a lot of tragedy here. The single-most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again. That's an incredible tragedy."

And if all this happened as Te'o claims -- that he carried on a three-year online relationship in which he never actually met Kekua face-to-face -- it is an incredible tragedy, however bizarre in nature.

Especially if the perpetrator of this hoax chose to kill off the girlfriend six hours after Te'o learned of the death of his grandmother, who did die on Sept. 11th or 12th of this past year.

But much about this also begs credibility. There are somewhat significant discrepancies in various trustworthy news sites -- the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, ESPN -- regarding which person died first, the grandmother or the fictitious girlfriend.

There are stories where Te'o's father talks of the player meeting up with Kekua in Hawaii for visits, though the family says they never met her.

More than one news source reported that Kekua graduated from Stanford, though there is no record of her going there, much less having ever been born or dying. Te'o told ESPN that he talked to her on the phone every night for four months as she struggled with leukemia, that on the final night she was alive she tried to console him regarding his grandmother's death, that her last words to him were, "I love you," that she planned to be at Notre Dame's senior day in November.

Yet in a Sept. 22 South Bend Tribune article, the grandmother died after the girlfriend. Three weeks later, that paper reversed it, saying the grandmother died first.

That same paper wrote that the two met following a Stanford-Notre Dame game in 2009, though Te'o now insists they never met.

What is known is that the picture widely circulated of the woman is the face of a different woman who once knew Tuiasosopo, though she insists she never knew anything about the hoax.

Further thickening the plot, Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia believes he met Kekua, telling one news organization on Wednesday night, "She is real."

If you don't think truth is stranger than fiction after this story, you never will. But just what the truth is may require the assistance of the FBI, CIA and James Bond.

During the 2012 season, as Te'o's unlikely Heisman campaign picked up momentum and the stories concerning his relationship with Kekua grew more detailed and emotional, ESPN asked him why a Mormon from Hawaii would choose the Catholic colossus Notre Dame over Southern Cal, which Te'o had cheered as a child on the islands.

"Faith is believing in something that you most likely can't see," he told the network. "But you believe to be true."

Those such as ND's Swarbrick will no doubt cling to that idea as a reason to stand behind their Heisman Trophy runner-up.

Everyone else may soon embrace a tweet that Te'o released on Nov. 21, which read: "The worst thing you can do is fool yourself."

Which is why right now, though I hope I'm wrong, I kinda wish I'd voted for Johnny Manziel.