My next entry was going to be about the fun time we had in Miami during the weekend of the BCS championship game (except for the three hours of the game!), but I managed to dick around for a couple of weeks and not get it written, so now I need to write about this big scandal involving Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend.
As soon as the story broke, I had friends messaging me and posting to my Wall on Facebook asking for my reaction and thoughts. My initial reaction was to wait and see what else comes out about it...this is an ongoing story, and I think there is still much to learn about it. I actually had to say that I was not taking any questions on it at this time! I didn’t want to comment until I learned more about it, and there are more and more reports coming out that made me decide to write about it.
I’m not going to go into details about what has been reported so far, or any sort of timeline about what was said by whom and when it was said. There is plenty out there about it, and it’s all a Google search away for you. Suffice it to say that it’s one of the biggest sports stories at the moment, and if you follow sports or watch any news at all, you’ll have heard about it. What it comes down to is whether Manti was complicit in this hoax, or whether he was the victim of the hoax.
I’ve read quite a few things that have said that there is no way he wasn’t involved in it. I’m going to have to disagree with that, and this comes from gut instinct based on what I’ve heard and read about the guy, and on my own personal experience with online relationships.
First, I’ve watched this kid play for four years. You tend to hear things in South Bend about whether a player is a decent guy or a jerk; I have never heard a bad word about Manti. Everyone who knows him says that he’s a good guy. My impression is that he is a kind and decent kid with a strong work ethic and a good heart.
Second, many have questioned how anyone could be taken in by an online relationship like that. I’m here to tell you that it is entirely too possible, and I speak from painful and personal experience. One of the reasons that this story has gotten to me the way it has is that it has dredged up some hurtful memories.
Several years ago, I entered into an online correspondence with a minor celebrity. (I won’t tell you who it was, although some of my close friends know. He’s the reason my Bacon Number is 3.) It was quite exciting and flattering to have the attention of someone on TV and in a few movies. My situation was a little different, because I did eventually end up meeting him a few times when he stopped to see me during his travels. I saw lots of things online about him having similar correspondences with several other women, but I just ignored all that and didn't believe that it was all true. Stupid, right? Yeah, when I look back now, it was, and I could just kick myself. I really wanted there to be more there than there was, so I ignored my good sense and just went along with it. I guess I knew deep down, though, that something wasn't right, because although he came to see me a few times, I never got a phone call from him. NOT ONE. Finally, I had had it and sent him a rather nasty email saying something to that effect (I believe it was “How come I have never gotten one single fucking phone call from you??” or something similar), and then he stopped responding to any of my emails. Just a complete cut-off.
A mutual friend told me that he told her that I was "mean to him" so he stopped writing to me. ::eye roll:: Whatever. I eventually got vindication when he wrote me a letter maybe a year later and apologized, hoping we could be friends again, and he promised to be a "better friend than he was a boyfriend." I was still angry and hurt, and was engaged to Ken by that time, and I told him that I wished him well, but please do not contact me again. That felt pretty good! I've gotten a little more mellow as I've gotten older, so I do genuinely wish him well.
Anyway, I write about this to illustrate that good, intelligent people can be deluded into believing things that others would look at and say, "What are you THINKING?" There are malicious people out there who know exactly what to say to sucker someone in, especially someone who is sort of gullible and trusting. This happened to me when I was in my thirties, so here you've got this college kid, 20 years old, a Mormon, sort of insulated as a star on the Notre Dame team...I can see how he got suckered into believing this was real. He wanted it to be real, he wanted to make that connection with someone who understood him...I don't know their motivation for doing this, any more than I know the motivation for my online friend who liked having plenty of chickens in the henhouse, if you know what I mean and I think you do! I guess maybe the attention? I really don't know.
I think you all know me well enough to know that I stand up for myself and don’t take shit from anyone. So it IS rather embarrassing to me that I took that sort of treatment for as long as I did. I can see why Manti is embarrassed about being duped that way. This happened to me about 15 years ago, and it still makes me cringe that I was so gullible and so willing to believe that there was more there than there really was. Older Beth wants to kick Younger Beth in the ass and say, “Wake up!”
There are a lot of us who want to believe the best of people. I’d honestly rather be this way than have a hard heart and be cynical and untrusting. But there is a price to be paid for that sort of mindset. We are vulnerable to being played for suckers, and that sort of experience only comes with time...and occasionally with painful lessons.
I think this is what is playing out for Manti right now. I could be wrong, and believe me, I’ll be the first to admit it if I am. My heart just aches for this young man, and I hope that my gut instinct is right in this case. I know how much such a betrayal can hurt, and how angry it can make you at yourself for your gullibility. We have yet to hear anything further from him other than his initial statement, and I hope he speaks sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Because I’ve been there.