For those unfamiliar with him, Manti Te’o was the star linebacker of the storied Notre Dame football program. Te’o was the runner-up for the Heisman and received much press coverage throughout this past season.
One incident in particular caught the eyes of the nation. In October, Te’o’s grandmother and girlfriend both passed away on the same day. Despite those heavy losses, Te’o played in Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State, leading his team to victory. He quickly became the focus of adulation.
But some months later, Deadspin broke the story that Te’o’s girlfriend never existed. http://deadspin.com/5976517/manti-teos-dead-girlfriend-the-most-heartbreaking-and-inspirational-story-of-the-college-football-season-is-a-hoax.
As the story has played out, several pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place. Te’o was most likely not involved in the hoax. He met the girl, Lennay Kekua, online, and the two had never actually met in person. As it turns out, Kekua did not exist and was, in fact, a man impersonating her—his motives are still unclear. Yet Te’o was entirely duped until December, when he received a call from her from beyond the grave. He did not immediately inform anyone and, in fact, perpetuated the story of her death after receiving that call.
People have mocked Te’o for his naivety and questioned his motives for dating a woman he had never met in person. His story raises some interesting issues.
Is society beginning to accept the idea of “intimate” relationships that occur solely—or at least largely—online? Over the past decade, it has become increasingly acceptable to meet potential significant others online, but that is a far cry from carrying out an entire relationship online. One questions the draw of such an arrangement. Desperation was surely not the case for Te’o. If a Heisman Trophy candidate cannot meet women, what chance do the rest of us stand? The arrangement itself, once commenced, is not all that different from a long-distance relationship. But we still instinctively draw a line in the sand between couples who rarely see each other because of distance and couples who have never seen each other. Perhaps the rise of “electronic sexual intimacy”—such as phone sex and sexting—signals a piecemeal shift to entirely electronic relationships. In any event, the public’s response to Te’o indicates that society in general has not yet accepted any such practice.