I’ve thought a decent bit about this strange story. A Notre Dame Heisman finalist linebacker decides to make up or remain complicit in an pretty elaborate ruse to convince the world he has a girlfriend. But the big question remains - why? Here are some possibilities:
- The kid is a massive prankster who doesn’t give a shit about anything and wants a laugh
- This is part of some strange publicity stunt, hatched before the Heisman thing got huge.
- Some other reason.
Let’s examine them one at a time. My ultimate conclusion, which is mere speculation and based on nothing other than reviewing the Deadspin article, suggests that maybe Te’o deserves some compassion and understanding, as opposed to ridicule and investigation. It may not be some sinister plot by the Notre Dame PR machine, but instead a weak cover thought up by an insecure college kid who isn’t ready to tell his whole story to the world yet.
Here are the possibilties in more detail:
The Prank - The Deadspin story seems to suggest that Te’o's buddy may have a prankster side to him. And just maybe the friend and Te’o, the mormon-raised linebacker, really want to see us all be the fools. But here’s where that doesn’t check out – Te’o's dad appears to have been pretty involved in this. There may not be any evidence that he was activiely fabricating stuff, and perhaps he was just repeating what Te’o told him, but that means Te’o was punking his dad too. This just doesn’t add up. What’s the payoff for the prank? Making Brian Kelly look like a dumbass for handing him the gameball? If this was an elaborate prank, why kill the girlfriend off? And what’s the punchline really? None of these explanations fits what we seem to know about Te’o anyway, and none on their own seem to offer a comelling reason to undertake the prank. I’m not buying it.
The Publicity Stunt – This one immediatley falls apart. Faking a relatinoship to boost yourself? Is it news that a ND linebacker has a girlfriend? Faking her death to pump yourself up? His grandma died the same weekend as the fake GF’s death. If it was some publicity stunt, why kill her off then – he already had all the PR he needed? But the argument in favor of a stunt is also somewhat compelling, if not awkward – if Te’o wanted to back away from the fake twitter gf, he didn’t have to kill her off. He could have just quietly broken up with her. Quick, does Aaron Murray have a girlfriend? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. And if he broke up with a girlfriend, I wouldn’t give one rat’s shit. So the whole tragic death thing suggests someone had a flair for the dramatic. Still, if Te’o cares at all about his future career, the GF dying angle just isn’t that compelling and draws a lot attention to him that could end badly.
Other – Why would a highly elligible 21 year-old bachelor at a major University enlist the help of another young bachelor of similar background and disposition in creating a fake story about having a girlfriend? I haven’t seen the Catfishing movie (I think that’s what it’s called), but there is a substantial segment of the population that makes up online people, sparks relationships, and takes them as far as they will go. But those folks usually don’t do it in the public eye. In fact, it’s the opposite, as they usually don’t want to get caught. This story with Te’o seems similar but different. Allegedly, the ND message boards are buzzing with rumors that Te’o made this up with a friend to avoid questions about why he wasn’t dating anyone. Let’s just cut to the chase – if Te’o is gay, he’s in a tough cross-section of two very masculine cutlutres. Football and Samoans are probably two of the less accepting sub-cultures for a gay athlete to come out. In fact, despite the fact there are 124 division I teams, each with roughly 100 players on a team, meaning there are 12,400 Division I football players, I am unaware of any openly gay football players (including NFL). That’s not to say there aren’t any, but they would seem to be few and far between. Even if you assume that 1% of the population is gay (I think the figure is more like 5%), one would expect 124 gay football players.
My guess is that Te’o has had a lot of opportunities with the opposite sex, and if he did turn them down, he probably faced a lot of scrutiny from teammates/friends/etc. That’s probably tough to hide after a while. And whose to say what being openly gay would do to his draft stock? Would other players want to be on his team? That may seem silly and unrealistic, but I’m guessing that in the hyper-macho NFL, a gay player would be very unpopular, and a GM would take that into consideration. If Te’o were gay and concerned about that, the gf ruse make a lot more sense. How do you make up a fake girlfriend these days that people can verify? Do it online. The media obviously ate it up. Probably seemed like a real good idea for a while.
This story won’t go away anytime soon, but for Te’o's sake, I hope it does. If I’m right and it is a cover-story, then hopefully the media won’t figure that out either, and he can live his life in relative peace and announce (or not announce) anything he likes on his own schedule. At the least, if this is not a prank or publicity stunt, I hope it does not affect his NFL draft status too much.