By Jeff Girod
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has been labeled everything from a chump to a con artist after his two-year relationship with girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, turned out to be imaginary.
Te’o received national publicity after his grandmother died in November, and then hours later Lennay Kekua allegedly died of leukemia.
The problem is Lennay Kekua never existed.
Now we’ve all had imaginary relationships. (I’ve been imaginarily dating Jenny McCarthy since 1993.) The difference is Jenny McCarthy is real. Well, most of her.
Reports differ on just how much Manti Te’o believed his relationship with his fake dead girlfriend was authentic—or if he willingly let the story continue to promote his campaign to win a Heisman Trophy.
Manti Te’o and his parents made their first public appearance since Lennay-gate, appearing on Katie Couric’s talk show on Thursday. Te’o gave an interview on ESPN last week, but refused to go on camera.
That’s one more thing Te’o has in common with his fake dead girlfriend: They’re both impossible to photograph.
This is not the first imaginary relationship for Manti Te’o. As a high school student, he reportedly went on a double date with the Tooth Fairy, the second gunman on the grassy knoll and a deposed Nigerian princess who needed Te’o’s credit card number.
Do I think Manti Te’o lied about his fake, dead girlfriend? Maybe. Probably.
I think Te’o made a connection online and he wanted it to be true even after he discovered it wasn’t. I think Te’o imagined some exotic Hawaiian princess with perfect skin on a tropical seashore and it made life easier to cope.
So what. I escape like that a thousand times a day, whether it’s through TV, a country song or just staring out of the car window.
This isn’t like the Lance Armstrong scandal. Manti Te’o didn’t lie or cheat in any way that would give him a competitive advantage—unless the point of the game was “who could live out an ’80s song by Morrissey.”
What’s real anyway? Inside my head I’m a 6’5” 30-time gold medalist who looks like Christian Bale and hasn’t lost a Super Bowl since I was 8. I own half of Santa Barbara and, in my spare time, I’ve won three Nobel Prizes, a Grammy and the America’s Cup.
Whatever white lies Manti Te’o made up or believed, he doesn’t deserve this. Not the blogs devoted to “Te’oing” (put your arm around an invisible person) or the ridicule that will haunt him every time he misses a tackle. “Hey Te’o, were you trying to sack the quarterback or hug your fake dead girlfriend?”
For all the publicity and deceit, Te’o is still just a 21-year-old trying to figure things out. He’s also a devout Mormon and star athlete at a famous Catholic college. And that’s enough to screw up anybody’s perception of life and death.
Don’t kid yourself. We’re all liars and bullshitters. We weigh less. We pray more. We drive slower—and we’ve slept with more women and less men. Oh and we would never, ever make up a fake dead girlfriend. Ri-i-i-ght.
Our entire lives are cropped, airbrushed and full of eHarmony profiles that would short-circuit a lie detector. Just imagine if some major news network quoted everything you say. How long would your fantasies take to unravel? How long would you last before all of your inconsistencies and half-truths were clickable on Deadspin?
It’s the reason I fake my death every 5 years: So I can start over with new friends and there’s nobody to remind me of what I was really like in high school/college/last weekend in Tijuana.
And here’s the funny part: Most of us don’t even realize when we’re lying. We’ve been telling the same tall tales for so long that we actually believe we once caught a 30-pound bass with our bare hands and Cheez-Its.
Never mind what’s true or factual. Our stories are more interesting. And if our stories are better, we’re more interesting. And, in a warped way, it makes us stronger people thanks to fictional adversities we never actually overcame.
Jenny McCarthy was telling me that just the other day—before I was sworn in as president.
Contact Jeff Girod at firstname.lastname@example.org.