I hope Manti Te'o is a liar. I hope he's a con artist. I hope he's more full of shit than a shithouse rat.
I hope that when he finally does address whatever was going on with his fictitious lost love, he tells us that he has been in on it all from the start. That he did it to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That he did it to manufacture buzz around a Heisman Trophy campaign. That he did it to enhance his Q-Rating and juice his NFL draft stock.
And I sure as hell hope he's not sorry.
I'll get the ball rolling, Manti. Here's my admission: I find the idea of Fabulist Manti Te'o far more intriguing than the heartbroken warrior you were made out to be.
Why are we – not just college football fans, but everyone who has turned on the TV or fired up the computer since Wednesday afternoon – so enthralled by this story? Part of the fascination has to lie in trying to pick holes in the story and figure out if Notre Dame's star linebacker got conned or did the conning. If he did get burned by some Internet joker, what kind of person would do that? And how could Te'o be so gullible?
But there’s more to it than that.
It’s not good enough anymore for a guy like Te’o to be one of the best college football players in the country. We’ve been conditioned to expect sensationalized backstories about promises to dying loved ones and journeys of self-discovery. When a Samoan Mormon at the country’s premier Catholic football factory supposedly sees his grandmother and girlfriend die just hours apart, it’s going to score some time on GameDay.
The college football product now encompasses more than just fall Saturdays. If we're not watching actual games, sentimentality competes with analysis for airtime. Meanwhile, schools push the human-interest angles and pie-in-the-sky narratives about saintly college students in hopes of getting a Tom Rinaldi voiceover set to tinkling ivories.
In the end, we all come away feeling entitled to prod and poke around in a 20-year-old kid's life. Whether intentionally or not, Te'o worked that to his advantage.
Ironically, what has been discovered after the fact about Te’o’s phantom affair suggests that The Media has grown so consumed with turning everyone into a story that it doesn't have the time, or inclination, to find a truly great one. Reading through Pete Thamel’s notes on his interview with Te’o, enough should have turned up in the course of routine fact-checking and due diligence to indicate something was up. Instead, Sports Illustrated apparently elected to omit the inconsistencies or take the Heisman candidate’s word for it.
Rather than an in-depth deconstruction of an elaborate ruse, we got hokum about an athlete struggling with pain away from the field. The irony in all of this is that the truth behind Te’o’s fake girlfriend truly is stranger – and far more interesting – than what was a fantastical fiction, and whatever is driving all of the lies feels more real than the pre-packaged best-foot-forwardness we’ve grown accustomed to.