Manti Teo is a liar. Yes. He lied. But the linebacker from Notre Dame is guilty of a much greater sin in the eyes of many. He's not cool.
Even as he became one of the most celebrated figures in college football, Teo was never cool. He talked about God. He seemed earnest. Tebow-ish.
For this past year, Teo seemed too good to be true. He was portrayed as everything that was still good in sports. He was a kid who seemed to take his faith seriously and by all accounts was a great young man who returned for his senior year and led his team all the way to the national championship game. The kid was the stuff of legend. And now he's a punchline. And a target. Now, the cool kids have decided on whose back the "kick me" sign will be on for the near future. It's Teo, because he was hoaxed into believing he had an online girlfriend who died.
As everyone knows by now, Teo made the completely uncool mistake of being naïve.
After the original article in Deadspin came out that Teo's girlfriend was a fabrication, the accusations flew that Teo had fabricated the girlfriend in order to hype his Heisman chances. In fact, it went beyond accusations. It was assumed in many circles. The worst was just assumed.
But that now doesn't appear to be true. In fact, ESPN has located another person who claims to have been victimized in a similar way by the same hoaxer. Teo did an ESPN interview and now it seems Teo will be interviewed by Katie Couric. But the knives have been out. And their work can't be undone. A columnist for CBS in Chicago called the 21 year old an "idiot." Columnist Rod Dreher sadly directed his readers to a page with raunchy photo-shopped pictures of Teo with a blow up doll. Dreher called the page "comedy gold."
Deadspin which did a fine job of uncovering the story threw in a paragraph where people who didn't know the truth suggested that there was an 80 percent chance that Teo was in on it from the beginning. How they come up with a number (any number) seems beyond imagining.
But why all the vitriol? Is it because what Teo did was so wrong? It seems now that Teo told reporters that he'd met her, even gave a characterization of how they looked at each other. It seems he was embarrassed that his girlfriend was only a voice on the telephone and online so he didn't tell the truth about that. And when he first started suspecting the girl he loved was a fiction dreamed up by hoaxers for reasons I can't fathom, Teo didn't tell the media right away.
For contrast, think about this - from 2005-2010, at least 31 off-the-field arrests involving 25 of University of Flordia players occurred. Some were simply alcohol possession and disorderly conduct but many involved charges of violence and felonies.
Did you know this? Do you know any of their names? Probably not. But Teo is a target and a punchline. Why? Because he fell in love and had his heart broken. And didn't tell everyone right away.
Is Teo perfect? No. He lied.
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said, "In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark because he is a guy who is so willing to believe in others and so ready to help, that as this hoax played out in a way that called upon those tendencies of Manti, it roped him more and more into the trap."
Is that the kind of person we want to attack? Are we supposed to congratulate ourselves for being so much more cynical and world wise? Is that what the cool kids do? Me? I still think the world probably needs more Teo's and less cynical worldly types always willing to lend an arched eyebrow when a helping hand is needed.