The Manti Te’o story is baffling, hysterical, pathetic and magnetizing because on its top layer it’s about a young man’s inspiring love for his suffering and then dead girlfriend but at it’s core it’s an infinitely confusing story about a liar or a fool.
Usually guys imagine they’re dating real women, instead of having real relationships with imaginary women but who am I to judge. But why did he say a woman who doesn’t exist was the most beautiful girl he’d ever met? Why did his dad say they spent time in Hawaii?
And why is Brent Musberger still drooling over her? We can laugh about all this because no one died, well no one except for his girlfriend, but America, we’ve been bamboozled. Last night I watched countless videos of Te’o talking in detail about this fictional person, and I think he’s a pathological liar.
I don’t say that lightly. I’ve known two pathological liars in my life and watching him speak about this ghostly girlfriend reminded me of the frighteningly cold way those liars I’ve known could look you in the eyes and tell you a detailed falsehood that they completely believed. The motivation for these people seems complex but it’s often ultimately a strategy to get attention. Te’o's lies surely captured attention and made him a figure of sympathy and awe, as he played big despite a heavy heart and thus became a man the nation had to respect.
The sad thing is I wasn’t too surprised to learn Te’o's heartwarming story is hogwash. It’s been over 40 years since Paul Simon wrote ‘Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?’ but that line rings truer now than ever. We’re in a sports world where it seems impossible to trust anyone or to believe what you’re seeing is real. Think of Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Andy Pettitte. Alex Rodriguez. Tiger Woods. Michael Vick. Lance Armstrong who was disappointingly cold and uncontrite last night and I think he made it worse.
Even saintly Timmy Tebow turned out to be a lame, pulling himself out of the game plan of a self-promoted publicity tour when he didn’t get playing time. We can’t let ourselves love athletic gods the way we once did, the way we loved Ali and Magic and Joe Montana because nowadays, sooner or later they’ll let you down. Is it because media scrutiny has grown sharper? Maybe.
Guys in the past had many misdeeds covered up by media but then again widespread doping and covering up molestation and the systematic torture and killing of dogs mean many of the worst scandals in sports history have happened in recent years.
Has America changed? Have the rewards for being a superstar athlete grown so large that athletes have become greedier and more craven in pursuit of those rewards? Maybe. I mean do you really think Manti, reported to be an attention hog, wasn’t aware that this girlfriend story wouldn’t get him the attention and love he may believe he deserves?
I think this scandal could be indicative of serious character flaws. I mean, if the answers were simple he would’ve already sat down with Oprah and told her. The story is so silly it begs us to joke about it. But as SNL’s Seth Myers said, we all have to remember that a person who never existed is dead.