The Ottumwa Courier

January 19, 2013

Did we all just get ‘Te’oed?’

Have one made-up girlfriend who dies of cancer, and they call that news!

Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”

 — Sir Walter Scott

A star linebacker who inspires a nation with a made-up girlfriend ... and they call that a story! Just think, the next time I make up a girlfriend, I could be arrested or be on “60 Minutes.”

Be careful when perpetuating or embellishing a “little white lie,”  whether you were initially responsible for it or not. Before you know it, you could could be featured the first 40 minutes of a one-hour ESPN SportsCenter. Before you know it, you could be “Te’oed.”

Yes, it’s bizarre!          

A bizarre story on Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te’o has hit the airways — it’s 24-7. He finished second in the Heisman race, leading his team to the national title game. An emotional story about his girlfriend, Lenay Kekua, dying of cancer this year, and his inspiring play, captured a nation’s hearts. It turns out Lenay doesn’t exist. It’s reported the hoax was known Dec. 6, and ESPN reports there’s been four discovered instances of Te’o talking about her since, including the Heisman Trophy presentation.  

Te’o said it inspired him and helped him play better as he led the Irish to the national title game.

Lenay didn’t go to Stanford as reported. She was never born, she never met Te’o, and she never died. He said it was an online relationship but talked about how they’d met. It was reported his dad said he had met her twice, after an away Stanford game and in Hawaii.

Notre Dame officials say Te’o is the target of an elaborate Internet scam., which broke the story, claimed Te’o and another man he knows could both be involved “with publicity in mind.”

How could this happen?

Sure this story has more twists and turns than a recent Oprah Winfrey interview. Now, maybe Te’o is just that naive to fall for an online hoax like this. Maybe he is calculating like the report. Maybe, it’s somewhere in-between — he fell for the lie and then perpetuated and embellished the fib a little as the media sank its teeth into it like a guilty-pleasure dessert. Who knows?

But, a fake girlfriend who happens to die of cancer, helping galvanize a nation, eliciting sympathy and skyrocketing you into the spotlight of the Heisman race as your team runs the regular-season table to make the national title game? Now that’s what I call an impressive lie! Pundits from across the country are trying to diagnose how this happened.

This is in the stratosphere of George Costanza. Maybe Te’o did have access to a mind like Seinfeld’s George, so deceitful, so devious, it almost worked.

Maybe it started out as just a ‘little white lie’

Perhaps a “little white lie” just grew, as they often do. Maybe Te’o was just telling a little white lie about the fictional girlfriend, trying to get out of a dinner-party invitation from Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly. Maybe it went down something like this ...

[N.D. Football Complex]

NOTRE DAME COACH BRIAN KELLY: “Te’o! (deeper voice) Te’o! So, how’s it goin’?

TE’O: “Good ... good, coach.”

COACH KELLY: “You know, the wife and I would like you to come over to the house tonight for a little dinner party, say about 6:30?”

TE’O: “Oh ... oh ... I’d love to coach, but ... I can’t. See I’ve got to talk this issue over with my girlfriend. We’ve been having some problems lately and ...”

COACH KELLY: “Girlfriend? I didn’t know you had a girlfriend! What’s her name?”

TE’O: “Name? Oh, name. Oh, her name is Len ... naaayy, Kek ... uuuaaa. Yep, Lenay Kekua, that’s her name. You would like her, she’s unreal.”

COACH KELLY: “So, what does she do?”

TE’O: “Do? Oh, uh, well ... she’s a student at Stanford.”

COACH KELLY: “Stanford! Really! (Grinning and poking Te’o in the stomach). Don’t go off giving our plays away when we play Stanford this year!”

TE’O: (Nervous laugh) Oh, I won’t.

COACH KELLY: “By the way, what’s your major again?”

TE’O: “My major? Uh, it’s ... architecture, yep, going to be an architect. Have you seen that addition on the library? That was one of my projects. Really didn’t take that long either.”

COACH KELLY: “Impressive! Well, it’s summer break, you should bring her out, we’ll have that dinner party another time.”

TE’O: “Yeah, that’s not going to work, you see she’s sick.”

COACH KELLY: “Well that’s too bad. How about next weekend? My calendar’s open — any weekend this summer.”

TE’O: “No, I mean she’s really sick. I don’t think it’s going to work this summer.”

COACH KELLY: (Furrowing his brown in skepticism) “Well, that’s too bad Te’o. Well, where’s she from?”

TE’O: “Uh, well ... her family is from the Samoan Islands, that’s why she’s majoring in ... (throat clearing) marine biology. Yeah, they’ve got two horses  ... Snoopy and ... Prickly Peat.”

COACH KELLY: (looking unconvinced) Well, take care Te’o. Say hello to your girlfriend ... Lenay.”

TE’O: “Oh, I will, coach. See ya.” (Te’o walks briskly off, wiping sweat from his brow, muttering to himself, “Whew, that was close! I almost got stuck having dinner with that windbag! He goes on and on about his Irish background — the long-winded stories — he just never shuts up! He’s so full of himself!”)

[Back at Te’o’s apartment]

Te’o walks in the door and sees his roommate George leaning back on his Barcalounger, thumbing through a magazine, while eating a block of cheese the size of a car battery.

Te’o shakes his head.

TE’O: “Thanks for the fictitious girlfriend story, George! I don’t think Coach Kelly bought it. Now, you’ve got me living a lie!

GEORGE: “Just one? I’m livin’ like 20.”

TE’O: We didn’t think this through — it’s not a good alibi! Now, he’s asking questions about Lenay, or whatever her name is! And that story about the horses, Snoopy and Prickly Peat, got me nowhere. You know I wanted to pretend I was at an architecture seminar! You’ve got me off with a fake girlfriend! Now, I don’t know what I’m doin’.”

GEORGE: “I got you out of dinner with that windbag, didn’t I? Hey, hey, let’s not get so defensive here. This is a give-and-take process. We’ve never worked together on a lie. Now, you don’t understand how I work. I have a certain way of working.

(George chokes on some cheese, then continues hoarse) “My previous roommate Jerry and I have worked together a few times. He knows how I work. It’s not a personal thing, you know? We’re just trying to come up with the best possible lie. And by the way, it’s good! It’s a good, smart lie — and I’m not going to dumb it down for some mass, bonehead audience!”

TE’O: “But I could get caught and embarrassed!”

GEORGE: “Look, it’s not like you’re going to contend for the Heisman or anything! C’mon. What’s the worst that could happen? You’re not going to get embarrassed. Hang in there kid!

“Don’t let Coach Kelly’s skepticism beat you. Liars have a code, when you catch someone in a lie, you call them on it! If they keep up with the skeptical follow-ups, just keep upping the ante. My motto is: If you wanna get nuts, let’s get nuts! We’re taking it up a notch!”

“Well, I don’t know George.”

Te’o opens the door again, getting ready to leave for an interview.

TE’O: “What if Coach Kelly keeps asking me to come for dinner? I can’t hold out forever!”

GEORGE: “Geez. Would you relax (shaking his head in amusement). It’s like you’ve never done this before. (George furrows his brow in concentration and points) Ok, now, why can’t she go to Coach Kelly’s dinner parties in the future? (George snaps his fingers) I got it! You said she was sick right? Just say, ‘uhp, she died.’ So obviously, he won’t be able to meet her at the dinner party. So ... (George gestures with his wrist to elongate the story). Also, throw in that quote I was talking about, ‘Her death takes place in the shadow of new life.’ It’s a good line. I got that from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Con.”

TE’O: “Look, I’ve got to scoot.”

GEORGE: “Te’o ... just remember, it’s not a lie, if you believe it.”

Te’o nods and he’s off.

And that’s the bizarre story of how Manti Te’o got into this strange quandary. You see, Manti Te’o’s fictional girlfriend story is tale about love, deception, greed, lust and ... unbridled enthusiasm. That’s what led to Manti Te’o’s downfall. You see Te’o was a simple Hawaiian kid. You might say a cockeyed optimist, who got himself mixed up in the high stakes game of Heisman diplomacy and national-title chasing intrigue.

Oprah’s couch could get another guest.  

Now, sportswriter Scott Jackson engaged me in comedy bits on this and so — he just got me thinking. So, if anyone is offended by any of this, blame Scott Jackson. I just want all of the credit and none of the blame. Is that so much to ask?