Te'o story speaks to grip of social media on his generation
Unless Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o himself is, as he claims, a victim of the bizarre hoax that created his imaginary but highly publicized girlfriend, there is no victim in the plot.
There is no way to know whether the Heisman Trophy runner-up would have been nominated for the award but for the compelling myth that surrounded his season. He is, by all accounts, a fine football player but one very good linebacker among many. Two factors separated him from the pack: He played for Notre Dame during an undefeated regular season; the story of his perseverance amid personal tragedy.
The story, of course, is that one day in September, Te'o learned that his grandmother died, which was true, and that six hours later his girlfriend - a 22-year-old Stanford University graduate who had been severely injured in a car crash and diagnosed with leukemia during the course of her recovery - had died from the disease. Then, supposedly at the urging of his dying girlfriend, Te'o went out and led the Irish to an upset victory over Michigan State that propelled Notre Dame to its undefeated season and the national championship game. Wow - talk about calling down the thunder.
As revealed by the Internet news site, Deadspin, there was no car crash, no leukemia, no girlfriend. Deadspin checked a public Social Security database, local newspaper obituaries, the Stanford registrar's office and other sources but could find no trace of the non-existent Ms. Kekua.
That didn't stop an array of media from reveling for months in the story, especially Sports Illustrated, which featured Te'o in a cover story built around the myth as if it was fact.
Now, much does not add up. Te'o, for example, cited his girlfriend as being real at least twice after the date he says he learned of the hoax.
But when the dust settles, the story will be not so much about Te'o as about the extraordinary grip of social media on his generation, and the stunning complicity of just about the entire sporting press in going along with the hoax for the sake of a compelling story.