Everyone’s heard the news. Even if I didn’t listen to sports radio in the morning, I would know about Manti Te’o’s embarrassing situation. “Manti Te’o,” “Manti Te’o hoax,” “Lennay Kekua,” and “Te’oing” are trending like crazy all across the web and even the girls that hate sports are talking about it at my work. And you know what? I fully sympathize with and understand him.
Welcome to the age of the internet. It’s the age of texting-not-calling, the time of Facebook event invites instead of paper invitations, the dawn of Tweeting-from-across-the-room. We live in a world where our smartphones and other devices keep us plugged in 24/7/365 and that leads us to both dark and light places.
While the attention seems to focus on the darkness of the matter (watch out for “catfish”ers!, there are killers on the internet!, et cetera), there’s plenty to be said for the light from those of us not living in the dial-up dark ages. Of the examples that come to my mind, the internet is a great communication tool. Just the other day, I sat in an editorial meeting via video chat with other members of the SciFi4Me staff. While Dan, Jason, and I are in Kansas City and would be able to meet in person, because of Google Hangouts we were able to spend the hour with contributors from California and Florida as well. I’m able to watch my niece grow up from South Carolina and learn more about my cousin in New Orleans than I had ever known while we were growing up.
On a personal note, I understand Te’o’s situation because I’ve been in relationships sharing characteristics like his with the fictional Lennay Kekua. Talking to a friend or relative of a friend online and hitting it off? I can name three examples. Never seeing somebody you’ve developed a friendship with live? I’m a World of Warcraft player- I’m friends with plenty of people who haven’t even given me their real name. Forming a close bond with someone without having to be in the room with them? Why not? The boyfriend’s mother and I became close long before she ever moved back to the states. What difference was there in that she and I had only met briefly once before she moved to England (which was long before the boyfriend and I started dating)?
I give a direct challenge to anyone reading this: explain to me why you have to have physical contact with someone to get close to them. Sure, it would be GREAT to give my best friend a hug right now, but the miles make it a bit difficult. Yes, it’s easier to spend time with someone just hanging out or dating- but it’s not the only way to make a connection. There are stories before our time of people falling in love through letter correspondences. When the only difference is the method of delivery, why are we so quick to judge? Though the technology seems foreign and taboo, the language and connections are still the same (without the snail mail delivery time). Besides, in speaking and writing, I find we give more of ourselves than just simply being around.
Besides, many people I know have found the loves of their lives online. It’s not all dating sites anymore. People are meeting online in more ways, between social networking, online gaming, and the obligatory to mention services dedicated to finding your “perfect match,” and there are new relationships formed every day. If not for the connection online, who’s to say some of these people would have ever met? I realize not every relationship ends perfectly, but how does that differ from relationships started at bars, coffee shops, or by pushy friends?
Now, to get back to Te’o: yesterday he gave on off-camera interview to ESPN and “said he misled the public about the nature of the ‘relationship’ because he was uncomfortable saying he had never met her in person.” Considering the taboo behind internet relationships (of any sort) in our society, it makes perfect sense to me. Connecting with someone is a personal thing, and trying to explain a non-physical connection to a physical world can be daunting- so it’s easier to tell a white lie- especially when you’re a 21 year old college student that’s been thrust into the national spotlight for your physical talent. While the white lies are not often harmful, the unfortunate thing happened in this situation: it was detrimental to Manti himself, and my heart goes out to him. The media and the public have been brutal.
Regrettably, in a situation like this, it’s not likely that many will be taking his side. People try to place blame when they feel duped, but those people often disregard the victim of the matter. A lot may try to claim that he had to have known, but it really seems to me that he didn’t and that ignorance was bliss in this case. It’s easier to be ignorant, for one, and it’s easier to simply enjoy the connection made than to question it.
Now, yes, Deadspin reported it before the young star could say anything himself. Many are claiming this is proof of Te’o’s involvement. I call bollocks. Sometimes it takes a while for a person to get a grasp on what’s going on, especially with as many weird details have come out about her “death” (there was a story about her death being faked to avoid drug dealers…if that’s not enough to really throw a person, what is?). It’s even harder when real feelings get involved, especially when you’ve made a mistake. There are those calling for him to come out and make a public statement, but I frankly don’t blame him for staying off camera. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but there IS such a thing as being embarrassed by it. Shame can play hell on a person and their self-esteem.
As for the so-called friend of Te’o’s who perpetuated the scheme? Let’s face it, the internet affords most of us the anonymity of being able to say, do, or be whoever we want for whatever reason. It’s a world in which an aging ex-Marine can be an 18 year old facing war for the first time, a world where people pretend to be sick for attention, and (on a nicer note) one where people can create a separate identity to protect their professional integrity. It’s disappointing that, in this case, it was a darker scheme. Why this “friend,” a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, did this or even why he targeted Te’o isn’t something many of us will ever know. To be honest, it doesn’t matter as much to me, and the ‘why’ is a question for a psychiatrist to address.
So, to wrap this up, I know this is probably going to catch me plenty of trolls, but my last piece goes out to Te’o:
Keep your chin up, honey. I may not count for much, but you’ve at least got THIS blogger on your side.
Other Great Articles on the Story:
Deadspin Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking and Inspirational Story of the College Football Season, is a Hoax (the original source of the news)