“Catfished” – I Believe Manti Te’o

“Catfished” – I Believe Manti Te’o January 16, 2013

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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