Lay off Te'o till there's real evidence

Lay off Te'o till there's real evidence

Published Jan. 24, 2013 12:00 a.m. ET

It’s all on faith now. How much do you have? How much do you think someone else can have? Believe in Manti Te’o or don’t believe.

Turns out, there is no end game to this. If there is one thing I was wrong about from the start, it was that we’ll find out the truth sooner or later. Facts will emerge; facts will tell. Instead, this is a sentence without a period, running on and on.

On Thursday, we got Te’o’s interview with Katie Couric, saw his alleged phone records, heard supposed voice messages and were taken in by the attorney for the alleged mastermind of the hoax, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who now wants to talk, too.

None of it got us any closer to knowing anything, because of the awkwardness of a man who is guilty until he proves himself innocent.


The point is that I’ve come to believe Te’o, that he was the victim of the girlfriend hoax. But there is no proof either way, and none appears to be coming. So Te’o’s case has moved into our pop culture, and it has become a national game to parse every word and use it to prove that Te’o was in on the hoax about his girlfriend, and not the victim.

It’s not fair to him, and his life is changing based on too many factors that shouldn’t matter, including whether we are too cynical to believe in anyone anymore. It’s time to stop this game. Real people are involved, real feelings — but not real evidence.

Te’o and his parents sat with Couric, crying. He is not Lindsay Lohan or Justin Bieber or Britney Spears, built for tabloids. His parents were concerned with bringing him up right.

A young man’s life is involved. This isn’t for our entertainment. Let’s lay off Te’o now, at least until some more evidence against him is produced.

Did I say “more’’ evidence? Consider this:

There is not one shred of evidence he had anything to do with this hoax. Not. One. Besides that, no one has actually even accused him. How can he disprove the evidence when there isn’t any?

Reporters are digging everywhere. Zero evidence. Deadspin broke the story that Te’o’s girlfriend was a hoax, but then recklessly and amateurishly built up the case against him by counting as evidence some guy saying he’s 80 percent sure Te’o helped to concoct his girlfriend.

When you are almost sure, the expression is that you’re 99.9 percent sure.

It’s only 80 percent when you’re talking out of your rear end.

I think Te’o is deeply religious and seriously gullible, a dangerous combination. He is perfect for being suckered in by someone presenting him an opportunity to help cure a tortured soul.

Do you believe that someone still can be deep-down good and selfless, the way Te’o was portrayed during the season? The way I portrayed him when writing about the letter he had written to a grieving family whose daughter was dying? That letter does not embarrass me now, as if I were duped. No, it is exactly why I believe him.

Also, I could be wrong.

But if you’re going to count him as guilty, just remember you’re basing it on hot air and amateur supposition.

He lied to his dad one day about his girlfriend. He didn’t correct the record two days after hearing from the girlfriend he thought was dead.

He didn’t visit her in the hospital when he was told she had gone into a coma?

Te’o said he was returning to Hawaii, and did have a layover in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t long enough to visit the hospital.

“Manti, that just really doesn’t make sense to me,’’ Couric told him.

“It doesn’t make sense to me either at this point,’’ he said.

That is not evidence. It’s EXACTLY how young people talk. They also mislead their parents about their girlfriends.

Meanwhile, the jokes are everywhere. A minor league baseball team is planning Manti Te’o girlfriend bobblehead night. You get an empty box, and then kiss air when the kiss cam comes around.

If Te’o is telling the truth, then he has been through the most horrifying experience, with his girlfriend dying, and then coming back.

Are we really OK with that being part of our fun?

“I just found that everything I believed to be my reality wasn’t actually reality at all,’’ he said.

The only reason people feel comfortable making fun of Te’o is that they think he concocted the whole thing, made up the girlfriend. They think that based on ... zero evidence and Mr. 80 percent.

So much of this comes down to us. Our conclusions are coming from somewhere.

When Te’o wrote that letter to the Smith family in Michigan, after finding out that their daughter, Bridget, was dying, it seemed like re-enforcement of the human spirit.

If you think Te’o used his hoax and the pain of a suffering family and a beautiful young dying girl to make himself look good, then you believe that he is evil. Maybe crazy.

It was such a heartfelt letter, about God and belief. He said Bridget was going to be with his girlfriend now.

Te’o did not seek publicity for that letter. I found out about it from a friend of the Smith family who wrote me an email. I then called the Smiths, who were deeply moved by Te’o’s letter. He had heard about them through a mutual friend.

I guess that letter isn’t really evidence, either. But it sounds just like the guy who could have been duped in a hoax, falling for a woman on the internet. (If you don’t know that that happens today, then you are older than 30).

He was buying into the idea that he might be on this earth to help people.

Listen to what he says about his girlfriend. They were off-and-on friends for several years, but then her dad died, her boyfriend broke up with her, she went into a coma in a car accident, she developed leukemia. In the last four months, he said, he decided he wanted to commit to her.

When she was in a coma, he was told that his voice was the only thing that made her react in any way. When she came out of the coma, he said, he heard her whisper his name over the phone, and said he knew right then: “They were right. I do help her.’’

“What he did,’’ Louise Smith told me the other day, after the news of the hoax came out, “was genuine to us.’’

It’s too bad for Te’o that inventing a girlfriend isn’t against the law. If it were, then a judge would be asking today, “You’re basing your case on what? What evidence?’’

No evidence. If there is some, bring it on. Until then, game over.