For years, Notre Dame football linebacker Manti Te’o has been the focus of media attention for many reasons — his Mormon faith, his leadership as co-captain, his many awards making him “the most decorated player in college football history.”
But a still-evolving story in Deadspin today, with news of a dead girlfriend hoax and questions about Te’o’s culpability in the tale, is drawing attention to him for a whole other set of reasons.
The short version of a too-complex-to-summarize, got-to-read-it-to-believe-it story comes from the AP:
The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te’o’s grandmother and a friend [his girlfriend] had died. Te’o didn’t miss the game. He said [Lennay] Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te’o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish’s undefeated regular season.
In an emotional speech to his fellow students the week after the deaths of his grandmother and apparent girlfriend, Te’o spoke of his faith. A practicing Mormon, Te’o passed on the customary, early-20’s Latter-day Saint mission to instead return to the football field where, his bishop told CNN, he thought he could do more good for the faith in the short-term. Here’s what he said to his fellow Irish (Te’o’s speech starts at 2:14):
I love you guys. Four years ago I made a decision to come here and I didn’t really know why. Times like these I know why. I love each and every one of you and I can’t thank you enough for . . . for all the love and support you’ve shown me and my family.
I’d like to thank my brothers you see standing behind me, my coaches and last but not least, the man upstairs.
We don’t know his plan for all of us but I know one thing for sure: I will see them again. And I have faith and I find peace in that, knowing I will spend the rest of life after this with the people whom I love. I love you guys. Go Irish.
You can watch more about the Te’o’s story, as it was then understood, in ESPN’s October interview with the football star. Te’o said:.
Faith is believing in something that you most likely can’t see but you believe to be true. You feel in your heart and your soul that it’s true. You still take that leap.
In the video, Te’o also gives his own accounting of how the tragedy unfolded.
Notre Dame’s subsequent win against Michigan was held, it was said at the time, “on the same day [his girlfriend] was buried.” Te’o explained to ESPN what he saw in the game’s spiritual significance:
They [his grandmother and girlfriend] were with me. I couldn’t do it without them and the support of my family and my girlfriend’s family and I miss them, I miss them. But I know that I’ll see them again one day.
Eighty thousand-plus people, Michigan and Notre Dame fans, standing with leis on. Just love. It looked like love. It was love. And when you see that, that’s when you know that, I know I was sent here [to Notre Dame]. I was sent here for a reason. And that’s where you get that confirmation that hey, you made the right choice.