Linda Robertson: Manti Te’o’s fascinating saga a symbol of our society

01/26/2013 12:00 AM

01/26/2013 1:13 AM

When it comes to the Manti Te’o soap opera, Katie Couric expressed the exasperation many of us are feeling.

“Come on, Manti!” Couric said at one point during her interview with the Notre Dame linebacker with the online girlfriend who was injured in a car crash, fell into a coma, revived at the sound of his voice, inspired him to heroic feats on the football field, died from leukemia, had a funeral, came back to life and got chased by drug dealers.

This femme fatale, sweet Lennay Kekua, was the “love of my life,” Te’o said, for more than two years.

Yet they never met. Never held hands. He never visited her in the hospital, never saw her face other than in a photograph. She never attended one of his games, never connected with him when they were within miles of each other in California and Hawaii.

She never existed. Except as a figment of the imagination. Te’o’s imagination.

It’s an unbelievable story. So unbelievable that it is difficult to conclude that Te’o was not involved — not necessarily as perpetrator but at least as perpetuator.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and agree that he was initially duped in a catfishing scheme. People send large sums of money to complete strangers in Nigeria, right?

But then he bought in to the idea — the ideal — of Lennay Kekua. He embraced her completely. Just not in person.

Was he a lonely, naïve, devout kid “trying to be a man,” as his father said in defending his 21-year-old son?

Or was he a guy who liked the attention, the unconditional love, the sympathetic ear, the power to heal?

Remember when you were young and had an invisible friend? Handy, wasn’t he or she? Comforting, fun, and you controlled the conversations.

Te’o was no victim once he willingly suspended disbelief. Curiously, he never managed to Skype with Kekua or chat with her via Facetime.

Do the math and Te’o averaged 33 hours per week on the phone with Kekua — almost five hours per day or night. Which begs the question, what kind of academic institution is Notre Dame if a busy athlete has that kind of spare time?

“I hope you have rollover minutes, by the way,” Couric said.

“Mobile to mobile,” a smiling Te’o responded in a well-crafted comeback.

Very funny? Very, very creepy.

The reason to feel sorry for Te’o isn’t because he got hoaxed or humiliated but because he kept the tale alive. Whether it was for his ego, the headlines and the Heisman hopes or whether it was for his soul, he needed Lennay Kekua.

We’re all suckers for fairy tales. Whether it’s Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods, Santa Claus or Cinderella, we’ve all been Kekuaed.

The Creative Artists Agency signed Te’o. Perhaps they need to sign Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, aka Lennay. Tuiasosopo once auditioned on The Voice. He’s got a much more promising career as a romance novelist.

As for Te’o, he will be drafted, but it won’t be on the basis of his Wonderlic test score.

Te’o is part of a generation that texts instead of talks. They’ve invented a whole new language. People today tweet the most banal details of daily life. They spend hours on Facebook. They do online dating. It’s a poor substitute for personal contact, the human touch, eye to eye, skin to skin.

In this brave, new cyber world soon we’ll be leaving everything to robots and computers like Hal. Or having relationships with them. What if you could program your spouse to clean the toilet, never argue and like the same movies you like?

The Te’o soap opera is so fascinating because it is a glimpse of us and what we are becoming if we are not careful.

Like most soap operas, it’s ridiculous and heart-wrenching. You don’t know whether to laugh. Or cry.

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service