Manti Te’o, fake girlfriends and confirmation bias

Way back in my guilt file is a story I wanted to highlight from CNN about Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s star linebacker. The story is a detailed account of the role religion plays in his life and I found it fascinating. Te’o is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is from Hawaii. My husband was raised Mormon and is from Hawaii, so I’d been following Te’o’s story. He’d been a leader in the top-ranked Notre Dame team that went on to the National Championship game. A sample from that story:

Graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii, Te’o had his choice of the best football programs in the country. His Mormon faith was a serious factor in the decision-making process, said his former high school coach, Kale Ane.

“A lot of that weighed on him,” Ane, who coached Te’o for three years, told CNN.  “The final weight was getting his message out on a broader scale.  A Mormon at a Catholic school was a good way to say, ‘You can keep your faith no matter where you go.’ “

Team chaplain Father Paul Doyle is interviewed:

“Manti is a very religious guy. He seeks out his Mormon congregation and attends off-campus faithfully,” Doyle said.

Te’o has been a member of the local Notre Dame Ward the Mormons’ rough equivalent of a Catholic parish in Mishawaka, Indiana, for four years, according to ward Bishop Jim Carrier.  The five counties in and around South Bend, Indiana, are home to about 2,000 Latter-day Saints, Carrier said.

A common practice in the LDS Church, which has no professional clergy, is having members give testimonies during Sunday worship services.

“I asked (Te’o) to talk about what influenced him to come to Notre Dame and how he used prayer in prompting him to make that decision,” Carrier said.

Carrier said Te’o spoke about leaning toward attending the University of Southern California. But as he prayed about his decision, coaches from Notre Dame called to check in. “He said he just felt an overwhelming feeling it was where he needed to go,” Carrier said. “He said, ‘It was an answer to prayer for me.’”

The story discusses whether Te’o plans to serve on a two-year mission and how other football players handled that.

What turned out to be the most interesting part of the story, as you may have heard today, was inserted pretty late in the report:

Te’o has been vocal about the role his faith plays in his life and how he leaned on it earlier this year after both his grandmother and girlfriend died in the span of less than two days during football season.  His girlfriend died after battling leukemia.  Te’o stayed with the team throughout the ordeal, playing one of the best games of his career the following Saturday.

Turns out that there may not have been a girlfriend, that she didn’t have leukemia, and didn’t die.

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