For those of you who don't follow college football (and given the Venn diagram of my blog and college football fans, I suspect that's a whole lot of you) allow me to first explain who Manti Te'o is before I explain why I can't believe him. Te'o is a linebacker for Notre Dame (or was--he's going out for the NFL draft this spring) who had a pretty serious string of really excellent games this year, and was in line for the Heisman trophy. In his interviews and press appearances, he talked a lot about how hard it was to keep playing after the personal tragedies he'd experienced, but how hard he tried to be inspired by them. See, Te'o's girlfriend and his grandmother had both died that year.
The grandmother hadn't come as much of a shock--she was elderly and in poor health--but his girlfriend, now that was a real sob story. She'd gotten into a car crash, and when she came out of her coma in the hospital, it was to the news that she had cancer. She fought valiantly against the disease, but in the end, it claimed her not long before...or possibly after, accounts vary...Te'o's grandma died.
Actually, accounts vary on a lot of things involving Te'o's girlfriend. Primarily because, as the sports news site Deadspin revealed, she never existed. Everything about her was made up out of whole cloth. The pictures were of a different girl, one who was an acquaintance of a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who may or may not have known Te'o. The Twitter account was a fake, the school she supposedly went to had no records of a student with her name, the hospital she was supposedly staying at had no records of her, and there was no birth or death certificate for her.
Te'o and his agent (since he's gone out for the draft, he now has an agent) were quick to turn this into a brand new inspirational story--Te'o was the victim of a crushing, malicious hoax that nearly ripped his heart out, but nonetheless he plans to keep on playing to show them that...um, something. The fact that Te'o spent months talking about all the time he and his girlfriend had spent together in Hawaii, and how they'd met at a game? Te'o had fudged the truth, slightly embarrassed to admit that he had never met the love of his life. The fact that even by his own timeline, he'd found out about the hoax in early December, and had made public statements about his dead girlfriend right up until the story broke in January? He wasn't sure how to tell everyone about it all, and just decided to keep it under wraps until he could figure it out. The fact that he apparently never visited his dying girlfriend in the hospital, despite flying through her home city on his way back to Hawaii to visit his grandparents? "It just never crossed my mind."
And that's where I draw the line. I can believe gullibility, I can believe catfishing, I can believe that some people are really good liars and willing to take advantage of people...but I have been in a long-distance relationship. I met my current wife over the Internet. And I can tell you with 100% certainty, if you care anything at all about your long-distance significant other, you are going to make an effort to see them. If you are passing through the city where they live, during a period where you have free time, while she is dying of freaking cancer, not going to see her either means that you know she's a fake, or you're a sociopath of the highest order. And I am willing to give Te'o enough of the benefit of the doubt to believe that he's not a sociopath of the highest order.
I do feel kind of bad for him, of course. He's too stupid to know how to tell a believable lie about his fake Internet girlfriend. Saying that she made excuses to avoid him, that she told him she didn't want to see him with her hair missing or something? Barely plausible. Saying that it just slipped his mind to visit the dying girlfriend that he couldn't shut up about to the media while everyone thought she was real? You couldn't be clearer about the fact that you were BS'ing if you did the interview in a pile of horse manure.
Te'o's lying. Even if it's never proven (which is unlikely, given how much scrutiny is on him right now) I will always know it.