Disclaimer: THIS IS JUST MY THEORY. I know nothing. This is an outline of my impression of what happened based on the publicly available info I’ve reviewed the past 24 hours. No sources, no interviews, nothing proprietary informed this. I think I may be right, it’s my best guess.
1. Teo believed this was a real person. He was duped on that part. It’s sick and wrong and disturbing.
2. Teo had a real relationship (to him), online and on the phone with this ‘person’. He became close with ‘her’.
3. ‘She’ was never his girlfriend. Either he allowed the media to characterize in that way originally and ran with it, or he created that characterization for some reason. But ‘girlfriend’ in the literal sense was not true.
4. This means that Teo is a victim yes, but not completely blameless either.
Never once did I believe that this person was actually Manti Teo’s girlfriend. Yeah, you might not believe it when I say it, but it’s very true. When he talked about her, and their relationship, when this all first started coming out in the media, it just never felt real in the literal sense of the word. The way he spoke about her, the attitude and the words, never really rung true for me. But honestly, I didn’t think it mattered all that much because she had just passed away. So Manti had a long-time, childhood (my impression) friend that was really sick that he got close to. And when she passed, he called her his girlfriend. Or maybe the media did and he didn’t correct them. But when she really existed, this wasn’t a big deal. Perhaps he wanted to honor her with the title. Perhaps he wishes she had been his girlfriend. But it didn’t really matter all that much, because regardless the kid had just lost 2 people very close to him. And compassion requires us to not really care that much.
But I did think it was odd. Out of curiosity, that MSU week I googled her. I dug around for 15 minutes to learn more about the car accident and cancer, as I thought it was a sadly remarkable story. When I found nothing, I put it off as ‘eh, most people don’t get articles written about them when they get sick’ and let it go. Oops.
Now, with what we know, the lies and half-truths and momentum all intermingle. It’s difficult to know where truth ends and half-truths begin, where half-truths end and lies begin, and where lies end and planned/deliberate falsification of an entire narrative begins. For Manti, I think it ends with lies. Yes, I think Manti Teo lied about the type and level of his relationship with this girl. I do not think that he knew she didn’t exist. I do not think that he was ‘in on it’ in the way that many do. But Manti screwed up here. Perhaps not with sinister or self-serving intentions, but he screwed up nonetheless.
But ultimately, how we judge him and his character going forward has much more to do with the motivation behind said stories, rather than the concoctions themselves.
To wit: Motive.
Motive 1: Blow this story up so I can win the Heisman. If this is true, he has become the Enemy. If this is true, he took the heart and soul of a University, the trust of his community and family, and smashed it. If this is true, I am disillusioned and disheartened and angry. Let me state my theory: I do not believe this is true. I don’t think Manti Teo is some evil PR genius. 1. It seems so wildly out of character from everything else he has done 2. It seems completely implausible given his background, upbringing and resources and 3. It’s just too wildly outlandish (yes, I just said that despite the last 24 hours). I just don’t think it’s possible that Manti Teo planned to use his close-friend-that-was-a-girl’s death to propel Heisman fame.
Motive 2: Honor her memory. This one seems more plausible to me. Manti had gotten very close to this person, and as she was ‘dying’ they shared a lot of intimate things. While he never met her, he felt very close to her. He shared important time with her on the phone, twitter, and via email. He was invested emotionally. Then when someone characterized her as his girlfriend, his heart told him ‘yeah, that’s what she was’ and he went with it. (Or, again, he put it out there first, still not sure on that one) It’s not accurate in terms of the traditional definition, it’s not a fact, and it’s not ‘right’, but he did it anyway. And then the next week, someone asks him more about it, and he’s not sure what to do. I can’t backtrack now, can I? So he repeats, and digs a little deeper. Then ND starts winning, and the story gets bigger. Deeper. Then an interview, deeper. Then another. Deeper. Essentially, Manti had one chance to be clear about his relationship, and it slipped past, never to be regained.
Motive 3: Momentum. This is exactly the same happening as Motive 2 except the why it happened is different. In 2 it’s about his honoring a girl he really cared about. In this one, he’s just a young and naive college kid that let everything get away from him. The story built upon itself, and he was just trying to keep his head above water with it. This led to a number of lies, lies of omission or half-truths.
I really think it was 2 or 3, and if I had to guess it was 2 (with 3 following on). I don’t know, but this is what I think happened.
Make no mistake, I believe Manti was conned. Catfished. Big time. I think he bought in hook, line and sinker as Tex said. I don’t believe for a second he was ‘in on it’. To believe that I would have to believe he is evil. I don’t think he is. To believe he was conned I have to believe he is very gullible/naive, and a bit thick. I find these, though still not great things to believe, more plausible. Think about it: this is a guy whose entire life is based on belief. Faith. He is not a critical, skeptical thinker. He’s relatively innocent, he’s relatively young, and he bought it. Those that think, at least based on evidence to date, that he was the mastermind behind the whole thing, have an agenda to push. Is it possible? Sure. But I see no evidence that leads to that. And Jack Swarbrick’s PC testimony lends a lot of credence to the case that he was duped. Jack is a smart, smart man. With resources.
So what do we think about Manti Teo if I’m right? If he was duped, but played a part in sensationalizing and embellishing the nature of the relationship, although for a relatively innocent reason?
Well, number 1, the myth is shattered regardless. There’s no getting back the Manti we knew 2 days ago. That Manti is gone forever.
But do we villify? Do we attack? Do we hate? No. We don’t. We listen and try to gather as many facts as possible and we take theory to truth. And then we make our collective call as fans, haters, as society. But if I’m right, if this theory holds, we look at Teo yes, as a victim. And also as a guy that got in way over his head, and didn’t know what to do next. We look at him as a very fallible, very young, super naive kid that made one mistake and then tried to keep that story alive, for a ton of reasons. We look at him with sad eyes, not with angry ones. Because ultimately he made a mistake, and that’s about it. Just turns out it was a very big one that only became bigger and is now the biggest it could possibly be.
Regardless, the damage has been done. To Teo and his legacy, to ND and to the Football program. This is a PR and brand disaster for Notre Dame, and once again ND has a ton of work to do to rectify and regain trust and brand prestige. It will be a monumental task for Jack Swarbrick, Father Jenkins and BK. But it’s one that they will have to address head-on and fix as best they can over time.
For Teo, he will still be drafted, he will still make millions, and he will still be the guy that got duped by a Catfish. But he’ll never be the guy we all thought we had. The perfect person, student, and player that was an absolutely perfect and infallible representation of all that Notre Dame stands for.
Because, sadly folks, that guy never existed either.
But please, remember. Theory.