The Manti Te'o Hoax is a Tragicomedy of the Highest Caliber

By Phil Clark
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines tragicomedy as “a drama or a situation blending tragic and comic elements.” In my opinion, nothing could better describe the Manti Te’o hoax and the national freaking out that has gone along with it. This is both a comedy and a tragedy, and sadly it’s only been treated as a tragedy. Lucky for me, I tend to see things differently than the general public and this is definitely one of those times.

The tragic elements have already been gone over in excruciating amounts, so I’m going to go over how this whole thing has been comedy gold to me.

First off, the fact that he got duped by someone portraying a member of the opposite sex online. You mean he got tricked by someone who wasn’t who they said they were? Welcome to the Internet, nice to meet you, Mr. Te’o. I mean seriously, do we all have to move down to the level of stupidity that Te’o obviously demonstrated here? That is if he really was tricked (more on that later).

The next is how this entire country’s sports media was so lovestruck and blushing like little schoolgirls at the sight of Te’o or the mention of his name. And it was this love affair that got him to New York and the Heisman Trophy presentation despite being, in my opinion, not quite worthy of being there; he was the best defensive player in college football this past season, but I still would’ve put A.J. McCarron or Braxton Miller above him. When Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN mentioned after this story broke about how he couldn’t find a death certificate or obituary for Lennay Kekua (Te’o’s fake girlfriend) and didn’t think much of it, I was nearly in tears laughing. This is a journalist who has been to so many major newspapers across the country, has been working for the largest sports network there is for two decades, and he doesn’t follow through on a crucial part of a major story? No, why would he want to do that? That would just kill the story and that story apparently was crucial to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish‘s undefeated season. But it wasn’t, and Wojciechowski was just my favorite example of this country’s sports media letting themselves and their profession down. They helped make this story as big as it became, so they deserve to be mocked when the story blew up in their faces.

And this whole thing is a bit personal to me because one of my favorite people to talk to is someone I met online. I can almost hear the “how do you know?” screams, but unlike Te’o, I know I haven’t been taken for a ride. How do I know? For starters, I’ve been in contact with this woman on and off for nearly 10 years, and it would be hard for anyone not working for the government or police to keep undercover for that long. Second, there are bits and pieces to her story that I could call her on if somehow she said something on the subject that was totally off. And her voice. Unlike Te’o, if I called my friend tomorrow night, as I do every week, and heard a voice different from her’s claiming to be her, I wouldn’t be able to buy it. And most of all, we’re not in a romantic relationship. So it would be weird, even by Internet standards, to mess with someone for a decade and have it never get romantic. I think I’m safe here.

Either way, whether Te’o had anything to do with the hoax or not, he doesn’t come out looking good in my opinion. If he’s innocent, then he’s a sap who was taken by someone who, based on his interview with Dr. Phil McGraw, has had his own issues dealing with his sexuality. If Te’o did it, then he is a master manipulator and someone who will be a pariah to the sports media forever because he took them for a ride. And either way, this just screams loneliness. If he did it because he wanted attention or if he was that desperate for attention to be fooled the way he was, the only conclusion I can draw is that Te’o is an incredibly lonely individual.

Personally, I still think he played a part in it. There are still the gaps in this whole thing’s timeline that don’t add up and it just isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that he was in on the whole thing. Remember, if it was for attention, it’s a win-win for this guy: he either gets attention for a double tragedy where there was only a single tragedy (the death of Te’o’s grandmother) or he gets attention for being the poor victim of a hoax. There are plenty of questions that still need to be answered, but sadly this story will be dead before anyone has the nerve to ask Te’o those questions.

I’m not saying that I am above being tricked by someone online. But I do know how easy it is to pull off because one of my cousins and I used to do it all the time in the early days of the Internet; start chatting a little, post a fake porno pic to a message claiming it’s you, and BAM!, some random fun on a boring Saturday night. Was it wrong? Yes, but the Internet is a haven for the sadistic, for the cowardly, for the nameless & faceless, and especially for people looking to con others. That’s the main reason this whole thing is funny to me: because this whole country is so cynical that it is aware that who you meet online may not be who they really are through countless stories of identity theft and shows like “To Catch a Predator,” but let it happen to one person famous enough and suddenly everyone forgets this and has to be shocked that something like this could happen. Wake up people. Nothing is safe or private or sacred or off limits online. To not know that in 2012 is inexcusable to me unless you were born after 2004.

By the way, I don’t care if I sound mean here because I don’t in any way feel that I’m being that mean. I feel that I’m being realistic and no-nonsense, though that many times is mistaken for being mean. Also, it pays to be paranoid in this day and age, and the Te’o story has given me a tiny bit of vindication for my paranoid tendencies. In the end, the Te’o story made chumps out of this country’s sports media for their laziness and it’s making chumps out of everyone who believes that is a tragedy. You tax the term. As for me: I’ve been laughing through most of this and hopefully there’s still more to come.

Phil Clark is a writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Or check out his blog.

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