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Joseph/Doyle: ‘Manti’s story to tell’ (Jan. 18)

Allan Joseph and Megan Doyle | Friday, January 18, 2013

A star linebacker’s well-known story of his girlfriend’s death has been shattered this week, and his well-known name is now the center of controversy.

The revelations regarding Manti Te’o have made for a complex, confusing story. And for a student body sorting through the news of the past two days, there are more questions than answers.

Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick began to answer some of those swirling questions Wednesday evening at a press conference. He confirmed Lennay Kekua’s existence was indeed a hoax. He confirmed the University had investigated the incident. But he also deferred a number of questions, claiming the details are “Manti’s story to tell.”

Yet beyond a brief statement about what he called “an incredibly embarrassing” situation, Manti’s story is still untold. Since Te’o has not yet spoken publicly beyond that statement, students can only speculate to fill his silence. And suddenly, Facebook and Twitter have exploded with students’ reactions to a relationship that appears to have existed only in that realm of social media.

Student opinion is mixed, with little consensus. Some stand by Notre Dame’s version of events and loyally defend Te’o. Some, convinced by the original Deadspin story and subsequent revelations, are disgusted with what they see as their erstwhile hero’s complicity. But while almost all have their theories of what happened, many are simply waiting to hear from the linebacker, reserving their judgment till they hear more about his side of the story.

After a season in which the Notre Dame student body rallied around Te’o, it is time he answered their questions – honestly, openly and fully.

“I think the students of Notre Dame and fans in general deserve to know what exactly happened with this,” sophomore John-Paul Zebrowski said.

The original Deadspin report implicated Te’o in the hoax, but Swarbrick and the University have vehemently denied that claim. The director of athletics described the player as an innocent victim and said the hoax “had a certain cruelty at its core.”

The motive for that cruelty is still unclear. So is if Te’o ever attempted to speak with a long-distance girlfriend via video-chat programs like Skype. Reports continue to trickle out with conflicting details, and it’s hard to know Te’o’s motivation for speaking so passionately about an online relationship. None of this is lost on students.

“Why didn’t he just put the details to rest earlier and why did this thing have to unroll so far?” sophomore Victoria Kasznica asked. “Why did he take advantage of this to maybe gain the sympathy of others, or why didn’t he put an end to the false rumor earlier?”

In addition, the University’s delays in revealing the hoax have raised eyebrows. Te’o waited to act on the situation until he went home for Christmas on Dec. 21 because he wanted to speak with his family about it in person, Swarbrick said. When he returned to campus Dec. 26, Te’o alerted head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco before Swarbrick was notified. A Yahoo! Sports report also claimed the University expected Te’o to reveal the hoax himself earlier this week before Deadspin broke the story. These long silences are just more confusing developments along the hoax’s timeline.

“[The students deserve to know] why the news came out so late,” Zebrowski said.

For a player whose off-the-field qualities were so central to his on-field persona, Te’o’s answers to the questions facing him will determine what comes of a legacy that once appeared to be so magnificent.

“I feel so bad for the guy and I mean, in order to clear his name and make him continue to be the outstanding individual he is both inside and out, I think he does need to clarify a few things that people are wondering, like ‘Were you at any moment part of this scandal?’” junior Chris Brandt said. “I mean, I don’t think he is, and the answer to that would be probably ‘No, I wasn’t a part of it, I was totally fooled.’”

The student body rallied around Te’o not only as a leader on a football team rising from disappointing past seasons, but also as a tangible symbol of what it means to be Notre Dame. He was a brother to students, and the latest in a proud tradition. When he was hurting, his University family embraced him as one of its own.

Manti’s peers listened to the story of his sorrow and helped it become a story of success. Now, they are asking their brother for the story again. The full one.

Now, it is Manti’s story to tell.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu and Megan Doyle at mdoyle11@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer.