Te'o speaks, but needs to face public

Te'o speaks, but needs to face public

Published Jan. 19, 2013 12:00 a.m. ET

Manti Te’o set too many conditions. Private interview. No cameras. One questioner, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap. Two days late, after having had a chance to see what the doubters were saying.

So, Te’o answered 2½ hours of questions Friday and Schaap believed his story. And well, that’s nice for Schaap. He is among our most respected, credible members of the media. But there is no way people will be convinced by hearing Te’o through him, second-hand.

It’s not nearly enough. I don’t want to go all 2005 on you, but at some point, something in this story has to involve a little more human contact. Everything is just so removed somehow.

Real human contact. How about a little face time? Te’o more than anyone should know the value of that by now.


If you don’t know, Te’o spoke with ESPN, his first interview since Deadspin broke the story that his girlfriend, who died of cancer in September and became the base for so many touching stories about Te’o, was just a hoax. She never existed. Deadspin thinks Te’o created the hoax. Te’o said he was the victim.

He told Schaap that “No, never’’ was he involved in the hoax.

"I wasn't part of this,'' he said. "When they hear the facts, they'll know. They'll know there is no way I could be a part of this."

He explained the inconsistencies people have picked away at the past two days since the story broke. He said, according to Schaap:

After he thought his girlfriend Lennay Kekua, was dead, she called him back on Dec. 6, saying she had had to fake her death to get away from drug dealers. Te’o said he got angry and said that his Lennay Kekua died on Sept. 12. He became emotional and confused. He began to wonder if she were alive, fake, a joke? He told Schaap he wasn’t sure, though, until this past Wednesday that Kekua never existed.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick had said Te’o became aware it was a hoax on Dec. 6. Te’o’s new timeline explains why he was still quoted talking about her after that.

What made him sure? Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — the guy playing the hoax on Te’o or the one playing the hoax with Te’o, depending on whose side you believe — tweeted him an apology for the whole thing. That’s it? After all this?

Deadspin suggested that Tuiasosopo and Te’o were friends. Te’o told Schaap they had only met once, but had traded texts before that. Te’o had thought Tuiasosopo was related to Kekua.

Look, Te’o provided an answer for every accusation against him, and second-hand Schaap said it was very convincing.

He also said that Te’o said he now hopes this is all behind him so he can move on and worry about the NFL draft.

Unreal. Te’o cannot expect a faceless interview to accomplish that. The thing is, Te’o doesn’t really have to answer any questions at all. Even if he invented his girlfriend, and her subsequent death from leukemia to get spotlight and public sympathy, it’s not as if he broke any laws.

Or NCAA rules.

He didn’t give himself an advantage on the field over others. Didn’t cheat like Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong showed his face on Oprah and it worked against him, as his face showed not one bit of remorse. Te’o doesn’t actually have to show his face.

If he wants to stop right here, that’s up to him. It’s just that most people won’t believe him, and that will follow him around for the rest of his life. Did you see that a minor-league baseball team is planning a Manti Te’o girlfriend bobblehead night?

You get an empty box. And when the KissCam turns your way, you kiss air.

You know, there might actually be some real human feeling in this story. If Te’o is telling the truth, then he truly believed he had a girlfriend. He truly believed that he found out she died only a few hours after his grandmother died. Those emotions might have all been true. And think of the trauma and confusion when the girlfriend called him in December.

If all of that is true, then a bobblehead night is just so cruel. They might as well go to a cemetery and start poking fun at the people at an ongoing funeral.

The problem for most people, I think, is in accepting the idea that a person can fall in love with another one without meeting in person. I have a tough time with that, too. But it really is a function of today’s world, where relationships are started, grown and finished online, or on the phone.

Te’o said he knew that would come off weird to people, which is why, he told second-hand Schaap, he led people to believe that they had met in person.

We all now have heard the term Catfish, about a type of scam in which people create false IDs and personas online and then try to dupe people into falling in love. It happens, surely to a young generation, Te’o’s, more than any other.

So this might be an online love affair that still might ruin a young man’s life. And if it was a hoax played on Te’o, then it came with a Twitter-pology from the bad guy.

The lack of face time and human connectivity just makes this so hard to understand. And that’s also why a private interview without facial expressions and emotions on TV for all of us to see, just isn’t going to be enough.

Te’o should know that by now better than anyone.

It’s up to him whether he feels the need to tell you what happened and why, and show his feelings about it. But if all we’re going to get is the account from second-hand Schaap, then there will be a lot of headless bobblehead nights ahead.