Is Manti Te’o a Liar or a Dupe?


A friend of mine sent me this Transcript of Jack Swarbrick Press Conference and another commented, “he’s either a liar or a dupe.”

Knowing very little about Manti Te’o or Notre Dame, but something about Mormons, I’m going to go with dupe.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not making a lazy or snarky equivalence between Mormons and the gullible. But I spent my teenage years surrounded by Mormons and I can tell you that the nicest, most sincere of them were absolute patsies; they believed everyone, trusted everyone, thought the best of everyone — you know, the way they’d been taught to — because it’s really the way we (that is, all people of faith) are supposed to be, in an ideal world.

There is an element in religion — in all religion, really, if it’s lived authentically — that requires a willingness to be a little bit naive, or, to put it frankly, a willingness to be duped: “You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped.” (Jer 20:7)

The life of faith trains us, sometimes glacially, but still inexorably, to be open, trusting. If the lives of the great saints teach us anything, it’s that the more open we are, the more trusting we are — the more willing we are to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) — the more profoundly we grow in holiness. And then then it builds upon itself, “grace following upon grace” (John 1:16) until we become the true saints our baptism calls us to be.

Knowing nothing about Te’o, I certainly cannot say whether he is a liar or a dupe, or both. And to be honest, I don’t much care.

This story, like so many social distractions these days, just seems part-and-parcel of our bored cultural voyeurism and our need to gasp and react to “something that is happening, right now!” Something that doesn’t actually concern any of us, or edify the culture in any way, except in that it allows us to indulge personal illusions that we are wiser and more savvy — or at least less dupe-able — than others.

Except the truth is, we are all of us dupes, in one way or another. If you’re passionately following this story — or have more than a bare interest in Kim Kardashian, or Snookie, or the Lance Armstrong Oprahfest or the Academy Awards — you just might be a dupe. Even worse, a willing dupe, because you (we, our whole nation) are choosing to focus on the Page Six Tabloid Fodder — stuff that is ultimately meaningless to the urgent issues facing our country and families. Our distractions are damning us in a variety of ways.

And, if you think that a secularist, or post-Christian world-view inoculates you from being a dupe, think again:

One meets postmodern secularists of diverse interests who remain supportive of a basic scheme that is balkanizing our world into environmentalism, anarchism, paganism, pantheism, food-puritanism and other isms, and who have simply embraced a religion outside of monotheism. If you think by abolishing the Abramic Big Three you’re going to abolish religion, well. . .good luck. Every secular religion I just mentioned comes with its own Liturgies, Rubrics and Rituals, its own Sins, Laws and Saviors.

My friend who called Manti “a liar or a dupe” seemed, at least to me, to be disgusted by either idea, but why would we be disgusted by a naive patsy, unless its because it speaks to a doubt within ourselves? Our need to be loved and our desire to fit in often makes dupes of us all. And the only way to get past being a dupe, in reality, is to go all-in on dupery:

That was the lesson that Peter — the he-manliest of the apostles, it always seemed to me — had to learn as he sat outside the praetorium, among those who had called for the blood of his Lord. Unwilling to trust their temper, he sought acceptance in the convenient lie, “I do not know him.” It was not the first time that Peter, in his weakness, had lost himself to circumstances. After trustingly pronouncing Jesus as “the Christ,” Peter dared to argue “God forbid!” to Jesus’ own prophecies. At Mount Tabor, in the presence of a transfigured Christ, Moses and Elijah, he jabbered that it was “good to be here” and offered to build dwellings — a typical he-man, trying to put a good face on a terrifying situation.

In both cases, swagger met a need for acceptance, and truth suffered for it. It was only after the Resurrection, when Peter wholly understood that there is no risk to vulnerability, that he became fully the Vicar that Christ intended — and needed — to build His Church. And this is why Peter does not swagger, nor deny truth to curry earthly acceptance, from his throne.

Manti Te’o may be a liar, or he may be a dupe. Or he may be both. At some time in our lives, most of us have been both.

Over at her blog, Notre Dame alum Lisa Hendey writes “I believe Manti”. Some, particularly if they have a horror of seeming too gullible, might call her a dupe, too. But she is choosing to think the best until she knows otherwise. That is the way of faith. Assume the best until someone demonstrates to you that you ought not. And then, assume the best again. That second time is the one that costs something; it’s the way of the saints in love — which is why I so rarely get there, myself.

Get Religion on Confirmation Bias

Instapundit on Media’s Selective Cynicism

Brutally Honest: Is Manti a Victim?

Elizabeth Duffy on a different kind of trust

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Mandy P.

    I am a college football fan, so this story is on my radar. I was initially in the dupe camp but there are direct quotes from both T’eo and his family in various publications claiming to have spoken to this imaginary woman on the phone and even to have me her at their own home. Unless it comes out that those journalists made that up or it was hearsay they extrapolated into quotes, I’m thinking he was in on it.

    The big deal is not the hoax (which is bizarre enough by itself), per se, but more that it came to a head with the alleged girlfriend’s tragic “death” while he was in the middle of the competition for the Heisman and also looking to get some publicity for the upcoming NFL draft. Obviously it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a big story in the football universe because this guy was being pushed as not only a star player but also a positive role model and all around upstanding citizen. Basically the reaction to this is the same as what it would like if we found out Tebow was kicking puppies and pushing children down stairs in his spare time.

    I know you’re big on not forming idols, but I think folks like this who seem like they’re genuinely good people are sort-of elevated in the same way we look up to the Saints: as concrete examples that being a good person and trying to do what’s right does pay off. Sometimes its in this world, and a lot of times it’s in the next. But I think we need those examples to help us to “keep on keeping on.” And in an industry where the vast majority of what’s put forward for us are thugs, bullies, and criminals I think people are excited to finally find someone worth paying attention to, and for the right reasons. And it’s terribly disappointing to find out that someone you may admire isn’t just human and mistake making like the rest of us but is actively creepy and shady.

  • Michelle

    I, too, like football, and have been looking at this story as it is unfolding, but more from the human/social perspective than the fan perspective. I don’t know whether he lied or was tricked, but I’m not sure why it matters so much, either way.

    People make mistakes by lying and by being duped. Did T’eo gain anything from this situation or could he have even thought there was something to gain? The “death” occurred in September before any Heisman ballotting or voting occurred. Did he presume he would be a candidate? He had the stats to be a candidate without any backstory.

    All I know is he is a very talented kid who loves to play football, and the lie or the trick, whichever it was did not make him a good football player. He was Heisman material without it.

    And, finally, if as a society we so desperately want to find genuinely good people to elevate, why do we seem to always look for ways to bring them down?

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  • Julie

    Love your column but don’t agree that just because someone is of a certain religion, he’s above deceiving others.

    [I never said that b/c someone is of a certain religion he's above deceiving others. I said the life of faith trains us to a measure of trust and also gullibility. -admin]

  • Mandy P.

    As I said upthread, no it does not ultimately matter in the grand scheme of things. However, as with most things I am interested in I prefer to give my time, support and/or money to people who are decent. Which is why I am a fan of Peyton Ammnig or Philip Rivers or RGIII. Those are all good, decent men who are not only outstanding players but are by all a counts, outstanding people off the field as well. And it’s also why I avoid supporting Ray Lewis or Aquib Talib or Ben Roethlisburger.

    And yes, they’d been talking about him as a possible Heisman candidate all year, and don’t think that’s not something that is lobbied for or that the committee is somehow immune to popular sentiments, even if it’s slightly under the radar. Obviously I have no idea if he was duped or if he lied. All I’m saying is that he and his family are on record in several publications (Sports Illustrated, South Bend Trib, even on Sports Center) from September up until the Hesiman ceremony claiming to have actually spoken to and met this woman. And now we know that didn’t happen. I dunno why they said those thing or if maybe it was something poorly sourced by the journalists in question. But if those quotes are accurate than I would suspect he was not duped.

    Further, yes it was a mistake regardless, but honestly he received a lot more publicity than he would have otherwise had he not had the “double tragedies” of his grandmother dying (which actually did happen) and the fake internet girlfriend dying on the same day. I am not implying he was a Heisman candidate strictly because of the publicity but that the publicity and the raised profile could easily have been the goal of the stunt. The kind of public interest in a good player that compelling personal stories can kindle has the potential to make them very popular players. And popularity coupled with some talent can make you very valuable to a team in the NFL (think jersey and ticket sales).

    And I am not looking for a way to bring this man down, nor do I think most other folks were. I am disappointed that what seemed like a very good young man may be a creep. And yes, if he faked a girlfriend and faked her death for publicity or whatnot that is creepy. I do think that there are some out there that look to drag good folks down, like the goobers who are offering rewards to anyone who will claim they had a sexual relationship with Tebow. I think there are some folks who don’t like feeling like someone else is better than they are or the virtue of other people makes them feel bad about themselves and so they relish this kind of stuff. I do not. I am very sad for this young man and his family because no matter what it ends up being, it will forever be an extremely embarrassing footnote on whatever career he has. Just like Michael Vick, who by all appearances seems to have genuinely changed his life after his arrest and conviction. But that will always be a spot on his public record and it makes me sad for him as well.

  • Mandy P.

    Peyton Manning, not Ammning. Autocorrect and I are not on friendly terms. :D

  • Peggy Coffey

    I know nothing of this story, but isn’t this the same press that can’t find (won’t look for) Obama’s personal history? Investigative journalism is dead. I’m surprised by nothing anymore.

  • Ellen

    As I listened to this story yesterday, I thought the same thing that Peggy did. The press can dig up absolutely EVERYTHING about a story involving a college football player, but when it comes to the POTUS college transcripts – nothing.

  • Janet

    “This story, like so many social distractions these days, just seems part-and-parcel of our bored cultural voyeurism and our need to gasp and react to “something that is happening, right now!”

    And that is exactly why it shouldn’t even be disseminated and discussed. I’m not an imbecile, and I know that it would be impossible for it not to make the evening “news” today. I just think that it shouldn’t be for these reasons; one, if he was duped, why are we dragging this poor guy’s embarrassment and heartbreak through our living rooms and computer screens? Second, if he was lying, why should we feed his apparently insatiable need for notoriety and our equally insatiable need for “cultural voyeurism”?

  • Julie

    I really do understand the message of your column. It’s just the comments from your personal experience with Mormons absolutely hit a raw nerve with me. Yes, they can be the most friendly, wonderful people. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen what can happen to relationships when they are determined that being a Mormon is better for your daughter than being a Catholic. It’s not pretty and very painful. So, I probably read the rest of your article with my admitted bias in mind. Thanks for the gentle correction.

  • Diane

    Just took a look at this story through the frame of the novelist since truth is in fact stranger than fiction in this case:

    The more time that goes by without him saying anything, the more the cynics feel justified, but it can also be explained by profound shame (and I make no presumptions about what that shame is about: being fooled, being a liar, or something else entirely). I know people on campus and for him to be in on it from the beginning is out of character according to his teammates, friends and family. More shall be revealed.

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