Let’s picture a certain nationally-recognized player at one of the premier programs in college football.
Let’s say this player is the picture of grace, humility, determination, and courage in the face of adversity. He exhibits physical ability far beyond others at his position, both today and throughout the past decade, putting up numbers that suggest a professional career is imminent. Not only is he athletically gifted, but he possesses the mental toughness of a man twice his age and level of experience, combined with an uncanny ability to rally his team — a storied, almost mythological program — towards a return to glory.
Sounds like Manti Te’o, right?
Given the media firestorm, incredible hype, and inescapable focus sure to be surrounding this person, would you feel differently about him if you knew he was potentially hiding a secret?
No, not that secret. Something even more personal and volatile.
Something so personal that many would rather never care to know.
What if this player…were gay?
Could this be a possible explanation — the underlying reason — for the “catfish scheme” Lennay Kekua existing?
The facts are, in the world of college sports today — in spite of the increasingly more liberal societal attitudes — homosexuality is taboo. The culture of college football, in particular, is all about machismo. Players consistently are required to one-up each other in terms of their masculinity– whether it be the hardest hit, dating the most attractive female, or bragging about the most recent night out at the bars.
Case and point: commentator Brent Musburger’s comments about Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron’s model girlfriend during the BCS National Championship game, which Musburger claimed as a good enough reason to pick up the football and learn the game.
Assuming someone was a part of this culture but didn’t fit this stereotype, wouldn’t they do everything in their power to at least play the part? Wouldn’t they try to be one of the guys, even at the potential cost of lying to themselves and possibly those around them about who they really are?
So much is still left to be proven for every young man fighting for a professional career, as they are under more intense scrutiny than you and I could possibly imagine. The status quo must be maintained. A player might feel forced to cover any information or personal practices that could affect their teammates’ perception of them. How can they run the risk of being ostracized or bullied in the locker room at a minimum, and totally banished from it and the sport at the maximum?
Maybe it is just not worth being authentic.
Now, perhaps the decision to toe the line — regardless of whether its the toughest, most personal battle the individual has ever fought — is one that can’t be taken lightly, and could lead to behavior that would initially be judged as bizarre and even unethical, but given the context, may seem like the only way to protect a secret.
In Manti Teo’s case, there was also the fact he played for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In every way, shape, and form, Notre Dame is one of the last bastions — at least on the surface — of Catholic conservatism and religious foundations in the world of academia. Everything about the university is fraught with symbolism. The “eye” of tradition and dogma is constantly upon those who walk the campus in South Bend, and especially those who become involved with activities in which they are representatives of the Fighting Irish.
Given this, isn’t it well within reason that Manti Te’o did conspire with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo to create a girlfriend, so as to avoid any question of his orientation? To follow the status quo. To be the “Notre Dame” ideal. All the while sacrificing the truth of his sexuality on the altar of conforming to the standard set well before his time.
If this did happen to be true — which we are neither corroborating nor denying — one could only hope the resulting reaction wouldn’t be too predictable.