Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The truth will set you free, and make you look really stupid

In the box of books my great-aunt sent my family when I was eight or ten, there was a book, the title of which I've long forgotten, about a shy and mousy girl who wants a doll so badly that she blurts out a lie about owning a gorgeous life-sized doll (aptly named Troubella). This story spirals out of control in ever more elaborate iterations until the girl ends up stealing a mannequin to take to some elegant party in honor of her fictitious doll, and she's chased by the police, and finally the truth comes out at the end. Although I read the book several times, it always made me cringe in vicarious embarrassment because the premise was so stupid. Why did she make up the story in the first place? Why did she keep digging herself in deeper? Why not just take it back as soon as she said it? I was the kind of child who was fairly observant of rules and regulations, so the thought of spinning a big lie was just ridiculous. Obviously, if you told the truth in the first place, or even second place, you'd certainly be better off, as well as honest.

This came to mind as I was reading the fantastic story of Manti Te'o, the acclaimed Notre Dame linebacker whose grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day.

(Lennay) Kekua, 22 years old, had been in a serious car accident in California, and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. SI's Pete Thamel described how Te'o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. "Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice," Thamel wrote. 
Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te'o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. It was heartbreaking and inspirational. Te'o would appear on ESPN's College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. He would send a heartfelt letter to the parents of a sick child, discussing his experience with disease and grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing the young couple's fairytale meeting—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto. 
Did you enjoy the uplifiting story, the tale of a man who responded to adversity by becoming one of the top players of the game? If so, stop reading.

Only it turns out the girlfriend did not die. That's because she did not live. That's because she did not exist.

Manti Te'o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper. 
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there's no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed. 
The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te'o.
The story is just so outrageous that you have to wonder: how did he think he would get away with it? Did he think that his celebrity would insulate him from any inquiry? Did he start to believe it a bit himself as the story grew, or did he think it was okay because people were inspired? How could he think that it wouldn't unravel, that no one would ever do the research and find that there were no death records, no life records, no hospital records, no police reports, nothing but a few social media profiles? And why lie in the first place? Was it not enough to be a celebrated college football player, with adoring profiles in ESPN and The New York Post?

Te'o now has a chance to come clean, but it sounds like he's going to pull a Lance Armstrong for a while. Here's his statement:
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. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.
Don't worry, Manti, Oprah will always have a place on her couch when your PR guys decide that honesty is the best, and most lucrative, policy.


Kelly said...

Yes, I totally believe he had a relationship for her for such a long time without ever having an in person meeting or even Skype. That is completely plausible in this day and age. And there must be an impressive amount of people involved in the scam for him to have not only talked to someone pretending to be her over the phone, but also various relatives.

Jessica C. said...

I have to say, I'm pretty disappointed in this post.

Information is coming out hourly that makes it seem more and more credible that Te'o was the victim of a major hoax, and now not only does he have to live with the peronsal humiliation of being severly duped in such a manner over such a long period of time, he also has to endure public scrutiny and criticism. Not to mention the fact that exaggerating the nature of his relationship with his girlfriend is not even close to comparable to Lance Armstrong lying about cheating at his job. It boggles the mind to think that he could have been doing this for Heisman publicity, when the girlfriend "died" only two games into a season when no one expected Notre Dame to go undefeated, and Te'o's Heisman prospects were laughable--after all, only ONE defensive player has EVER won the Heisman in the history of the award.

Whether you think he's actually innocent or not, it's probably wise to give things like this a little more time to develop, time for the truth to come out fully, before trashing a person's reputation on your site.

MrsDarwin said...

Not to mention the fact that exaggerating the nature of his relationship with his girlfriend is not even close to comparable to Lance Armstrong lying about cheating at his job.

Oh, bull. Life is everyone's job. Lying about a job, lying about a girlfriend -- they're both reprehensible, and say a lot about a person's character. In fact, lying about a job is almost understandable, because that's your source of livelihood. Making up a girlfriend out of whole cloth? That's pretty gratuitous.

As to trashing someone's reputation, you'd think Manti Te'o himself might have thought of his own reputation when he claimed to have had an exclusively online relationship with someone whom he'd earlier told various media outlets he'd met in person.

Jessica C. said...

I'm not suggesting that any lying is excusable--certainly it's bad. But I'd argue there are definitely degrees to it. Consequences matter. What are the consequences to Lance's lies? He shouldn't have been eligible to race in the first place, which means other people would have won, and a lot of money changed hands wrongly. What are the consequences to Te'o's lies? Publicity/embarrassment is about all I'm coming up with.

It's hard to argue that Armstrong's lies are better because they are based on his livelihood when it's not like he was scraping by paycheck to paycheck--he's hugely wealthy at this point, and never stopped lying. He kept competing and competing well after he built a fortune, taking winnings away from honest competitors.

Also, you really seem 100% certain that Teo's lie was that he never met her, when the mounting evidence seems to be the reverse--he lied about having ever met her in person, which seems more understandable (though, of course, still bad)--there is still a stigma surrounding online dating in many circles. Including yours, apparently.

Mostly I'm disappointed with the original post because--unlike so much of this blog, which I read regularly and enjoy--it feels petty. Not what I hope to read here. But I'll shut my yap now and quit arguing about it.

Jenny said...

I don't know what to believe exactly, but I do know that Te'o is lying about something.

Is he part of the hoax or did he lie about all the details? Because you can't have it both ways. He may have been embarrassed about having an online girlfriend and made up the details. I can believe that, but he doesn't admit that.

What about all the phone calls? I am curious about the phone records.

And didn't his father claim to have met this girl? The one who doesn't exist. Fishy, fishy.

The truth is out there.

MrsDarwin said...

He made up a story (let's be generous and say that he was completely hoaxed but bought into it to the extent of making up corroborating details), apparently lied about it to his family, allowed media outlets to print false accounts about meeting her -- and the clear moral here is that we need to work to reduce the stigma of online dating?

Maybe we should start a national conversation about idiotic gullibility too.