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Published: 1/18/2013

Te’o needs to fill in blanks in sad tale

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Someone once asked what a column is supposed to accomplish. My answer: It should make you laugh, cry, think … it should inform you, entertain you, tick you off. None of that and I’ve failed.

But I’m not sure where this one is going to land because I’ve never written one like it. Who has?

When it comes to Manti Te’o, we’re all questions, no answers, too many guesses. It’s not funny, it’s only morbidly entertaining, we’re somewhere between tears and ticked off.

I don’t have a clue what is going on, but common sense and hindsight make it hard to believe Te’o, or anyone, could have a long-term relationship and fall in love with a person he had never met, never seen, never video-chatted with, etc.

Then Lennay Kukua died and he mourned her, and his sorrow and his perseverance in the face of such tragedy, coupled with the same-day death of his grandmother, became the moral backbone of Notre Dame’s football team and helped fuel a Heisman Trophy bid.

It added to the mystique of the Irish. Nobody knows for sure what George Gipp told Rockne in that hospital room, but we know now that this more recent “win one for …” was all blarney.

The natural instinct was sympathy. I bought it and felt it. So did reporters and writers and TV types across the country. Shame on us. Nobody even Googled an obit for background? Then Deadspin.com went looking for Kukua’s death certificate, and the whole house of cards collapsed.

Te’o, the Irish linebacker and Heisman runner-up, once told ESPN that Kukua was “the most beautiful girl I ever met.”

His father once told the South Bend Tribune of a meeting between the two in November, 2009, after Notre Dame beat Stanford, where Kukua was a student, at Stanford’s stadium. As told, it was fairytale stuff.

Then she was in an auto accident, then diagnosed with leukemia and died in September. And the big, strong linebacker cried, and so did many of us.

It turns out there was a problem. There was no Lennay Kukua. There was no such Stanford student. There was never a meeting. Hell, there was no funeral. There was, we are told, a giant hoax perpetrated upon Te’o, a deception played out online and via telephone.

We are told he had no clue of this until Dec. 6, when he received a call from the phone number he knew as Kukua’s. Who was on the other end remains a mystery. Two days later, though, during a press session before the Heisman ceremony he was asked about charity work and part of his answer was, “I really got hit with cancer. I don’t like cancer at all. I lost both of my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.”

eportedly, it was 20 days before Te’o took any of this to Notre Dame’s athletic officials. The school ordered an investigation. It learned, according to athletic director Jack Swarbrick, of a “very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can’t fully understand, but [with] a certain cruelty at its core.”

At the core, Deadspin suggests, is a man who is an acquaintance of Te’o. Go figure.

Swarbrick said Te’o was duped and that “the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again.”

Maybe. But we’re all questions, no answers. We need to hear from Te’o, his lips to our ears. Until then, there is the sense that everybody is being duped by somebody.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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