“Catfished” – I Believe Manti Te’o

My head is reeling tonight from a story involving both my alma mater, Notre Dame and my favorite college football player, Manti Te’o. In a nutshell, here is the story as reported by Jack Swarbrick, Vice President and Director of Athletics for the University of Notre Dame:

Good evening. Thanks to all of you for joining us on relatively short notice. We’re here tonight, obviously, because of an article that appeared in Dead Spin earlier today and to address the subject matter of that article.

My focus here tonight is to talk to you about what the University knew, when we knew it, and what decisions we made based on that information. Much of what drove that process and those decisions relates in part to a fundamental view of the importance of student privacy, and that will likely play a role tonight also because, at the end of the day, this is Manti’s story to tell and we believe he should have the right to tell it, which he is going to do.

So there may be some questions this evening which I defer to him, but I will try to be as responsive as I possibly can to all of your questions.

While we still don’t know all of the dimensions of this and other than the perpetrators, I can assure you that no one knows all of the dimensions of this there are certain things that I feel confident we do know. The first is that this was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can’t fully understand but had a certain cruelty at its core, based on the exchanges that we were able to see between some of the people who perpetrated it.

Manti was the victim of that hoax. Manti is the victim of that hoax, and he will carry that with him for a while.

In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark because he is a guy who is so willing to believe in others and so ready to help that, as this hoax played out in a way that called upon those tendencies of Manti and roped him more and more into the trap. He was not a person who would have a second thought about offering his assistance and help in engaging fully.

Finally and reflective of that, I want to stress, as someone who has probably been as engaged in this as anyone in the past couple of weeks, that nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota. The same great young man, great student, and great athlete that we have been so proud to have be a member of our family is the same guy tonight, unchanged in any way, except for, as he indicated in a statement in his release, the embarrassment associated with having been a victim in this case.

On the morning of December 26th, very early morning, Manti called his coaches to inform them that, while he was in attendance at the ESPN awards show in Orlando, he received a phone call from a number he recognized as having been that he associated with Lennay Kekua. When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same voice he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead.

Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine. I will let him again talk about that and his reaction to it. But he maintained that secret vis a vis the members of the football family until he called the coaches on the morning of the 26th. They promptly reached out to me to inform me of this shocking piece of news, and I arranged to meet Manti upon his return to campus and did so on the afternoon of the 27th.

I met with Manti for about an hour and 45 minutes and asked him to review every detail of the relationship as he knew it with this woman. Manti did so, was forthright, answered every question, and was eager to share the information with me.

I met with him again the next day, as I had put the notes together from the previous day’s meeting, to just review again what we had gone over to make sure I had all the details correct. And, again, he was a full and excellent partner in making sure that the information I collected was accurate.

I then took that information and shared it with other leaders in the university for a deliberation as to next steps, what we should do. Some additional questions of Manti were then developed, which he again promptly responded, and a decision was made to engage in an independent investigative firm to see if they could determine what was at the nature of what increasingly appeared to us to be a sophisticated hoax.

While apprised by that investigative firm of their work along the way, we received a final report from them on January 4th. I met with Brian and Ottilia Te’o in Miami on the 5th to share with them the essence of those findings. We left that meeting with an understanding that they would think about what they had heard, engaged Manti’s future representation, which would be determined later in the week, in consultation as to how to best respond, and keep the university fully informed of their intentions and work in concert with us when they were ready to communicate the story.

It was my understanding…is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke.

Read the entire transcript here.

Already, all across the Internet people are turning on Manti and assuming he’s behind this plot, or at least that he knew about the deception. Call me Pollyanna, but I don’t believe that’s true. It’s hard for me to believe that a young man with such talent, drive, and moral character would unleash or participate in a plot like this. At every turn, when you see Manti in the public eye, you also see loving parents who seem to be great folks as well.

Was the University wrong in not divulging the truth about the story earlier? I believe Mr. Swarbrick when he says that they were concerned with fully investigating the situation and protecting a student’s privacy. I don’t believe this was a cover-up, but rather a conscious decision to seek the truth. Until proven wrong, I believe in Manti.


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About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of CatholicMom.com and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at LisaHendey.com and connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

  • Rozann Carter

    Oh, how I hope and pray you are right.

  • Ashley

    You should read the Deadspin article and look up many of the numerous statements that Te’o has made to the press that completely contradict what Swarbrick said in tonight’s embarrassing press conference. It’s absolutely clear that Te’o is lying. The only question is the extent of the lying. It blows my mind that ND is doubling down with statements that are easily refuted with a 30 second google search, but the instinct to circle the wagons is a powerful one.

    • TimH

      Ashley, let’s wait until the facts come out – nothing is absolutely clear about this. Read the South Bend Tribune’s account of why they published what they did, and it seems plausible that Manti’s family were victims of scam artists willing to spend hours on the phone with them to flesh out their hoax: http://www.southbendtribune.com/sbt-cruel-hoax-20130116,0,3702276,full.story Maybe not, but I don’t think we can say one way or the other.

      In reaction to becoming aware that we’ve been wrong to believe one “obviously true” version of events, let’s not jump to another one. It’s time to accept the limits of our knowledge for a while, painful but spiritually rewarding.

  • Nina

    The Deadspin investigative piece is pretty damning. I’m more likely to believe the theory that this fake girlfriend story was a “beard” for a gay relationship. Given the Mormon community’s attitude and actions towards gay people and football culture, it makes sense. The rest of it? Doesn’t make an iota of sense at all, and the facts don’t add up.

  • Nina

    Oops…not the Mormon’s attitude towards football culture…their attitude towards gays, and the he-man culture of football…

  • TimH

    Sorry, Nina, your speculation doesn’t check out, at least according the the quality of info we have available: “it is well-known on campus that he has had relations with other girls during his time at Notre Dame” http://collegespun.com/big-east/notre-dame/a-notre-dame-students-take-on-manti-teos-dead-girlfriend-hoax I feel a little frustrated that you would float something like that without checking for counter-evidence, much less positive evidence for your claim.

    Lisa, here’s a good list of the difficult questions Te’o and his supporters are facing: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/17/16564736-9-baffling-questions-in-the-manti-teo-girlfriend-hoax?lite

    • Nina

      I’m not “claiming” anything. I said that I’m more likely to believe that theory than his and ND’s claim that he was an innocent victim of a hoax.

      I can speculate this a dozen ways from Sunday. I can spin it any way you like — heck, ND is spinning it, he’s spinning it, we’re all spinning it. Except for Deadspin, who have put up their evidence for all to see, and it’s a compelling piece of solid journalism. T’eo is clearly no innocent dupe or victim or target of a hoax.

      The funny thing, to me, is how those who are all het up and indignant over the lack of investigative journalism when it comes to the Obama administration’s actions, and who spend a ton of time and energy criticizing the mainstream media’s willingness to unquestioningly believe the best — more than the best — of their particular idol/idols are themselves unwilling to take a serious look at a very good piece of investigative journalism when it comes to one of THEIR idols. Meh. Hypocrisy abounds…nothing new there.

      The only people you can even hope to trust are the people whose eyes you can look into when you’re talking to them. Even then, most of them are probably full of crap, too.

      • TimH

        To anyone looking for hope or just some perspective (and who isn’t after Fr. Maciel, Fr. Corapi, Bishop Weakland, Joe Paterno, Lance Armstrong…), I recommend this read on standing alongside our fellow-frauds: http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/pdf/eng55.pdf (warning: it’s long and at times slow going, but it is rewarding) In summary: “how do we [sinners caught up in fraudulent forms of apparent goodness] plan to hear Paul’s warning words? By making ourselves judges over others we consider more fraudulent than ourselves, or by sitting alongside our brother frauds and working out with their help, and with fear and trembling, what it looks like to be hoiked off into the new Creation?”

        • lisahendey

          Thanks for that link Tim- what a line you shared… I will definitely check it out. My head’s still spinning trying to make a bit of sense out of all this.

          • TimH

            Thanks so much! I’m really honored. Yes, that article was really helpful for me in finding peace over the Fr. Maciel stumbling block, and rereading it last night helped stop my head from spinning after reading so much about Mr. Te’o. (By the way though, while I wish it didn’t have to be a distraction, I want to be upfront that Fr. James Alison is a somewhat controversial figure himself in the Catholic world. He explains what I’m referring to here, starting at “I would like to issue the equivalent of one of those health warnings by which the Surgeon-General beautifies cigarette packets…” http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng31.html He makes his case with similar trepidation here: http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng17.html I would have shared this messiness sooner if I had known you were considering sharing the link on your blog.)

        • Nina

          Just trust you, eh? LOL! Not happening. Not now. Not ever. I’ve seen too much, know too much. Not bloody likely to click on a link from anyone in these comboxes. I’ve seen what Patheos writers and ocmmenters do, even if it breaks the law, if they want to bully someone who doesn’t meet their oh-so-holiest-of-holy standards. /eyeroll. Nice try. Ta!

          • J.

            Nina: your remark says more about you then about Te’o. Why are you here at Patheos if you don’t like the writing?

            The item above is a PDF—you can load it off this site.

            Your sense of persecution and your use of a site you find repulsive should be indicators to you that you need to talk with someone you trust and find out why you are in such pain.

            I wish you luck in discovering why you feel so awful…and then finding what will relieve that pain.

          • Nina


            I rest my case…

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  • J.

    Like most media news, the stories told are conflicting and confusing. We, the media absorbing public, will actually never know the “truth”. With that said what was the harm done. If done by Te’o certainly our trust and understanding of him as a human being has become muddied. His ability at football hasn’t changed but his ability to be considered “heroic” has. If done by outside forces again his ability at football is unaffected but our regard for him, by some of us, is less because we think him gullible.

    People react so strongly to this story because they see themselves where before they saw a “hero”—someone they wanted to be. Now Te’o is just human. And forgiving and understanding a human seems difficult for the rest of us humans to do. Lucky for all of us, including Te’o, there’s God, who by his nature is always to have mercy—always.

    We all need to learn that forgiving isn’t forgetting but it is letting go….better than discussing this issue, we should pray for all involved and for ourselves for being judgmental (almost by nature but if we believe we are daughters and sons of God than our nature, too, should be merciful.) The word “mercy” comes from Latin for “price paid” but generally in English means forgiving, benevolent and kind. Being merciful is not something Americans have practical experience as a community, sadly.

    • Nina

      That’s real cute following your comment to me…

      The hypocrisy of the self-appointed holiest-of-holies never ends…nor does it surprise or shock me anymore. Par for the course.

  • Gerald McMahon

    Lisa, this is a good column. I am a fellow Notre Dame alum (class of 1982).
    I have followed Manti Te’os career, and I have been inspired by his tremendous football skills, leadership, and character. He was clearly the victim of a hoax-his statements, the apology of his tormenter, the witness of other victims, and data evident on the internet confirm that. Yes, he was “duped”, and yes, he erred in lying to his father about meeting the supposed girlfriend. It is an embarrassing episode for Manti, but he is a good person, with a good heart, and he will be fine as time passes. More perplexing is the lack of discernment and empathy of many adults, including prominent national commentators, who apparently cannot wait for all evidence to become available before savaging a young man’s character, ignoring evidence that exculpates him, and failing to compassionately understand that most young adults make embarrassing mistakes at one time or another.

    I appreciate your writing. Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.catholicmom.com Lisa Hendey

      Gerald – thanks so much for your comment! You really lined up your statements with absolutely what I believe to be true after we’ve had a few days to learn more about the situation. I concur with your final words about the attack-nature of so many… sad. I hope you’ll be a regular visit and commenter.