Manti Te’o hoax has more culprits than victims

In his first on-camera interview, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o tells Katie Couric about spending all night on the phone with his online girlfriend, who never existed. The full interview will air on “Katie” on Thursday. (Courtesy of "Katie")

What, are we going to have an athlete provide a nationally televised apology to a well-known broadcaster every week now? If so, I have a short list of candidates, and I’m sure you do, too.

ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap got Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o first, although off-camera, and because the World Wide Leader is so great at branding, can “ESPN: Confessional” be far behind?

Te’o’s attempt at redemption airs Thursday night, via an interview with ABC’s Katie Couric. His parents accompanied him on his latest confessional, in which he tells Couric he lied “briefly” about the whole scam involving a dead girlfriend who did not exist. His father then declares his son is not a liar.

Te’o has admitted that he learned Dec. 6 that his girlfriend — who supposedly was in a terrible car accident, then died of leukemia the same day as his grandmother passed away — was imaginary. (A nationally known Notre Dame linebacker can’t meet — actually meet — a nice gal in South Bend? Really?)

Te’o was to attend the Heisman Trophy announcement Dec. 8, so obviously he didn’t want to mar that hallowed event with, you know, the truth. And all the days between Dec. 8 and last week, when Deadspin broke the hoax story? Yes, the Fighting Irish had a BCS national championship game to play, but if Te’o had gotten in front of this story in December, it would be gone by now. Yes, there would have been taunts from Alabama players, but he’d best get used to taunts. He lived via the Internet, and he’s about to find out what it means to be hoisted on his own petard.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo has yet to be hoisted by anything. He allegedly stole a woman’s photo from her Facebook page and spun a web — pun intended — of lies surrounding her, from her battle with cancer to her death. Diane O’Meara said Tuiasosopo called her to apologize for using her photo to represent the girlfriend. Te’o said Tuiasosopo sent him an apology via Twitter, ironically where the entire miserable mess began. The apology tweet — when you care enough to send 140 characters. #youshouldbeashamed. Te’o then talked to Tuiasosopo, who said “two guys and a girl” are responsible for the hoax.

What in the world possesses a person — or three people — to create a fake woman and then get a top college football player to fall for her online, unless it is to humiliate said football player? And why would that be a goal in anyone’s life? And for heaven’s sake, who has the time?

Tuiasosopo has not publicly admitted his involvement. He allegedly tried this trick on a number of people and even used a similar sob story in auditioning for “The Voice,” yet he is described by others as a devout Christian. (Is there a new definition of “devout Christian” of which I’m unaware?) His former football coach Jon Flemming told ABC News that “He’s doing good. Wishing everyone would go away.”

Really? Tuiasosopo wishes everyone would go away? You first, buddy boy. You first.

Tuiasosopo seems to have committed no crime, although “stealing” O’Meara’s image should be one. He simply used the tools at his disposal — Facebook, Twitter, e-mail — to fool a gullible 21-year-old who grew up in a generation that keeps its eyes glued to the electronic world, where anything can be made believable.

That’s not to say that Te’o is blameless. He promoted and repeated this story, embellished it, lied to his own parents about meeting this woman, and then when he learned the truth, he kept silent. Because they took place on the indestructible Internet, the humiliation of these revelations will follow him the rest of his life, like a 21st-century scarlet “F,” for fool.

So the less blameless has been punished, and the true culprit has not. That violates the good guy/bad guy construct we like. Here we have a bad guy/less bad guy or (at best) bad guy/dope. I can’t find a side to take even as the story continues to unfold — for instance, USA Today reports that the family conducted Bible study with the faux girlfriend, via text message, and Teo’s mom tried to convert her to Mormonism, also via text message. Isn’t there an app for that?

If Teo’s story is a cautionary tale for people who believe everything they read on Facebook, who eagerly await the latest Twitter sensation, who are Pavlovian in response to their text message alert bell, then perhaps something is to be gained from all this hubbub. Dupers and the duped alike, do us all a favor and get a non-electronic life already, one of those boring ones no one has to read (or write) about.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.
com/hamilton
.

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