When I was at ND, I would have been thrilled to have a fake girlfriend as attractive as Lennay. And, if questioned by reporters with microphones and cameras, I’m not sure I would have had the moral fiber to explain, fully, the nature of our relationship – that we had never met, that there were weeks-long gaps in our communications. Obviously, FaceTime and Skype weren’t available in those days, but let’s assume I had asked my Lennay for a photograph and it just never arrived, for whatever reason. I don’t know if I would have confessed, under the lights, to that, either. In short, in most regards, I’m rather certain that I would have done much as Manti has.
But, that doesn’t make it right. In my view, Manti Te’o bears a huge amount of responsibility for not being both upfront about the nature of his relationship with Lennay and for not fully confessing the moment he knew. Whether that moment came “when the light [went] off” on December 23rd or earlier or last week, Manti should have, as a player, a captain and as a man, gone to Coach Diaco or Coach Kelly and told them that the narrative was flawed – a narrative that we were all complicit in creating.
I’ve thought about Manti’s role in this a lot. And how I cannot pretend to have walked a mile in his shoes. What’s it like to be the Chosen One — to have returned Notre Dame to relevance with a story as powerful as any tackle, a narrative arc as perfect as any of the interceptions? And that’s where my understanding founders. How can one person possibly be so naïve? For I get what it means to be both an idiot forty-something AND an idiot student, fumbling to make sense of a romantic relationship that simply would not stand up to scrutiny. I was once that young man punching at the walls with my bare and bloody hands. But that doesn’t make it right.
How I behaved was meaningless – for it affected nothing more than the appearance of my knuckles for a week or two, perhaps, a small part of my wall in my apartment in Turtle Creek. I don’t understand, at a very base and fundamental level, Manti’s excuse, that he was in the moment and focused on the season or on enjoying the Heisman run-up with his family. Even Michael pulled himself from the moment to kiss his brother and tell him that he knew of his betrayal. I think, with a good degree of certainty, that I would tell Manti the same now, and maybe in the same way, if he didn’t rip my arms off before I could get the words out, “I know it was you, Manti, you broke my heart. You broke my heart.” But that doesn’t make it right.
The University is complicit, too. There has to be someone, whose job it is, to fact-check this stuff. I know. Tex and I had this very conversation today — why should we have to verify a dead girlfriend? I dunno, but maybe because there’s a show on MTV about this? If you’re ND, and we are ND, isn’t it just good practice or due diligence that you should just Google this stuff? That’s not Kelly’s job, or Diaco’s job, but can’t you check all the same? Have you gone back and watched the game ball dedication? Do you cringe?
I do. Not that Manti knew at the time. And not that Kelly knew at the time. But it clearly resonated with everyone — with BK, ND and NBC. Lennay’s death shifted the merchandise, as it were. And while there may have been nothing predatory in Kelly’s motives, or ND’s motive or NBC’s motives, it was Lennay, and not the grandmother, whose death made the moment cinematic. If you’re going to go along with something in such a public manner, you have to make sure that it’s real. Don’t we owe that to our student-athletes? If they are so focused on football, academics, trophies, relevance and draft status, shouldn’t we have some functionary whose job it is to Google this stuff? To find out that there is nothing, in fact, to Google?
And the students who knew are complicit, too. I don’t mean to single out Tyler Moorehead, but his article the other day has blown up and he’s now a de facto student representative. So, I’ll take him to task: were you silenced? Did you and the players who knew this was rather literally much ado about nothing do anything? Did anyone go to the University with their doubts? To say that you wouldn’t do that anyway, for any student is easy. But that doesn’t make it right.
And we in “the media” are complicit, too. You can read Thamel’s apologia over at SI if you want — his posting of the transcript I don’t think helped his cause. You can read the South Bend Tribune’s excusing its “archiving” of the Manti article and believe it if you want. If you read the questions that journalists asked Manti carefully and read Manti’s answers carefully, you cannot help but come away with the impression that about fifty questions weren’t asked. Like, “so what was it like, Manti, when you first met her?” “No, what I meant, Manti, is what was she wearing, what were you wearing and set the scene for me Manti?” I can describe the fucking second Mrs. Bayou Irish walked into my life, all purple cocktail dress and heels and a FUCKING ENTOURAGE. You want to know the details of the dress? Done. The color of her lipstick? Done. How she wrinkled her nose at me and said, “you smoke?” before laughing and tossing her blonde mane in a display as garish as anything seen among tropical birds. You think ‘Bama versus ND was an SEC versus the best of the rest contest? You cannot imagine the difference and disparity between Mrs. Bayou and me — an LSU woman at (what I thought then were) the peak of her powers) and a Notre Dame man with the looks of Woody Allen and the comedic wit of Kenneth Branagh.
And no one at this blog bothered to check, and how hard was that, in retrospect? Couldn’t I have Googled ANY of it? I mean, I have a family and a job and I’m not a professional journalist. But that doesn’t make it right. We all failed. Manti failed us. We failed Manti. We all failed ND. And we all failed ourselves. We wanted a hero so, so bad, that none of us didn’t do anything about the gaps and holes and inconsistencies. But that doesn’t make it right.