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The most baffling aspect of the Manti Te'o story

By Stephen Cogan
On January 25, 2013

Everybody loves a good true story.

One of the major reasons I chose to become a sportswriter is because I love the nonfiction stories that sports provide.

Personally, my favorite stories are the emotional ones; the ones that tug at our heartstrings that make us feel the burden of certain athletes and cause us to fall in love with them like an arrow from Cupid.

Manti Te'o's story was one of those stories. How many men are capable of handling the deaths of the woman they were in love with and the woman who raised them? Let's not forget that both deaths happened within six hours of each other.

And how many young men can then channel the grief and lead their team to an emotional 20-3 win over Michigan State while recording 12 tackles?

It used to be just one man who could say that he battled through that kind of emotional adversity: Manti Te'o.

However, now it is no one since the entire story of Manti Te'o's girlfriend who died of cancer was a complete phony.

That's right. Lennay Kekua doesn't exist. She's as real and substantive as Jane Doe, the lost city of Atlantis, the Mayan's 2012 prediction and Linus's Great Pumpkin of Halloween.
One of my favorite movie scenes is in "The Shawshank Redemption," where Red tells Andy that he can't just make a person up.

But Te'o did!

It still is a beautiful work of fiction from the first meeting on Facebook three years ago to our dear Te'o staying up all night talking to her on the phone while she was in the hospital battling leukemia.

I can just see every woman in the world cooing over this dream boy. Too bad he's just a nightmare con artist.

That's the problem with this entire situation. We as a society crave that sweet story that deserves to be made into a movie with tear-jerking dialogue and heart-wrenching background music that makes us happy to be alive and human.

Everyone in South Bend got so wrapped in a romantic version of "Rudy" that no one even dared to question its authenticity, and that's what has boggled my mind the most. The complete lack of fact-checking from everyone, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated is what stuns me the most.

It wasn't that Te'o's story was a facade, but it was that he managed to fool every single person he ever talked to about this phantom.

Whenever a writer wanted to talk to Kekua or her family, Te'o would say they didn't want to be bothered and that was that.

No one bothered to try and find her friends at Stanford. No one bothered to try to find out where she spent her childhood and do some interviews there. No one bothered to ask Te'o for a photograph of the two together.

Now Manti Te'o wants the world to believe that he is a victim of a terrible hoax; a vicious campaign of lies by cruel people stringing him and his heart along for the ride. He's willing to admit that he never met the girl he was so in love with and own up to being a sap.

Two problems with that though. Not everyone is going to buy his story this time and all of us can bet that there will be fact-checking this go-around.


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