On Manti Te'o, and Priorities

[Content Note: Coercion; misogyny; rape culture; self-harm.]

By now, you've probably heard the story about Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o and his imaginary girlfriend. If not, here is Deadspin's remarkable report about their untangling of this strange tale. An excerpt:
Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, the stories said, played this season under a terrible burden. A Mormon linebacker who led his Catholic school's football program back to glory, Te'o was whipsawed between personal tragedies along the way. In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te'o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.

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.

...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.
According to Te'o, he was the victim of a cruel hoax, perpetrated by family friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Maybe so. But then there were the lies he and his family told about their first meeting in person, and their visits in Hawaii.

Could there be another explanation? Maybe. Tuiasosopo, the person behind the imaginary Lennay Kekua, is another football player, a friend of Te'o's. There is speculation they were in on it together. For publicity, goes the theory. I can imagine another scenario in which two devoutly religious young men trying to make careers in a sport deeply associated with traditional masculinity invent a female façade to carry on a relationship in an age of public love on social media. I'm not saying I think that's definitely what happened: I'm just saying sometimes there are reasons for these things that aren't immediately apparent, and aren't readily explained for the same reasons they happened in the first place.

Anyway. I don't know what happened. (Besides the evident failure of basic fact-checking at several major media outlets.) At some point, maybe we'll find out more.

Which brings me to Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, and his tearful promise at a press conference to pursue an investigation into what had been done to Manti Te'o. I'll turn it over here to Dave Zirin:
Swarbrick revealed that a private outside firm had been hired to investigate just who had perpetrated this "cruel game." The athletic director even cried. His behavior only raises more important questions than anything Te'o will face tomorrow.

Why hasn't there been any kind of privately funded, outside investigation into the alleged sexual assaults committed by members of the football team? Why was there no private, outside investigation into Coach Brian Kelly's role in the death of team videographer Declan Sullivan?

It says so much that Te'o's bizarre soap opera has moved Swarbrick to openly weeping but he hasn't spared one tear, let alone held one press conference, for Lizzy Seeberg, the young woman who took her own life after coming forward with allegations that a member of the team sexually assaulted her.

Swarbrick's press conference displayed that the problem at Notre Dame is not just football players without a compass; it's the adults without a conscience. Their credo isn't any kind of desire for truth or justice. Instead it seems to be little more than a constant effort to protect the Fighting Irish brand, no matter who gets hurt.
I will add only this to Zirin's keen insight: The Notre Dame community rallied around Lennay Kekua after hearing her story. They raised thousands of dollars for leukemia charities and research. They weeped upon hearing of her death.

All this sympathy for an imaginary woman. And what did they offer Lizzy Seeberg?

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