South Bend, Ind.—Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o acknowledged Thursday that he “misled” people after discovering his online girlfriend was fake but insisted he “didn’t lie” to anyone except his father. The Notre Dame star linebacker learned on December 6 that Lennay Kekua wasn’t real but still spoke about her to reporters afterward.
Te’o told ABC News’ Katie Couric that the emotions and loss he experienced were real. “I was just scared, and I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “Part of me was saying if you say that she’s alive, what would everybody think? What are you going to tell everybody who followed you, who you’ve inspired?”
Te’o gained sympathy in September, when his grandmother and girlfriend supposedly died on the same day. But it turns out Te’o never met Kekua in person. According to reports, a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo created a fake Twitter account for Kekua and used a falsetto voice in phone calls with Te’o.
Te’o said he lied to his father because he was embarrassed to admit he was in love with a woman he hadn’t met. His father responded, “He’s not a liar. He’s a kid. He’s a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man.”
Sportswriters are debating whether Te’o was dense, in denial, or deceitful. And NFL scouts are trying to determine if the hoax will affect his draft potential. So far, they seem willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
ESPN columnist Ian Connor said the public humiliation is punishment enough. “He isn’t Lance Armstrong, a grown-up who long ago earned his doctorate in deceit and intimidation. Assuming he’s telling most of the truth, if not all of it, Te’o is merely a silly college kid who made a fool of himself. It seems he’s already paid a heavy enough price for that.”
Sources: abcnews.go.com, usatoday.com, cnn.com, espn.com
- What parts of this story are you most surprised or confused by? Why do you think the story has captivated so many people?
- Do you think Te’o is a victim? a perpetrator? both? Explain. Do you buy his story about why he didn’t come clean right after discovering the hoax?
- How do you feel about Teo’s insistence that he didn’t lie? Is misleading essentially the same thing as lying? When, if ever, is it okay to withhold information that could be used against you or make you look bad? Is it better to deal with any consequences or embarrassment right away? Explain.
- How do you feel about people excusing Te’o’s poor judgment and deception because he’s only 21? At what age should people be expected to make solid decisions? Explain.
- If you were Te’o’s father, would you defend your son, even though he knowingly deceived you? Why or why not? How truthful are you with your parents? What do you try to shield them from? When has that backfired?
- If you were in charge of drafting players for a pro team, would you be worried about selecting Te’o? Why or why not? What might job interviews or the college-admissions process look like if everyone had to explain their lapses in judgment?
- Why does God keep giving us second chances? How does it feel to know you can never screw up so badly that God won’t forgive you and take you back?
- What are some of the pros and cons of online relationships? Is it possible to be authentic and fall in love with someone you’ve never met in person? Why or why not?
- When have you suspected that a friend—whether online or in person—wasn’t being truthful with you, and how did you handle the situation?
Scripture links: Proverbs 6:16-19; Luke 8:17-18; Luke 15:11-24; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Timothy 4:12; and 1 John 3:4-7.