Reflections on the Manti Te’o Hoax from a Notre Dame Alum
It’s a hard time to be a Notre Dame fan right now.
First we endured a nail-biting regular season that ends with us undefeated, ranked #1, and headed to the national championship for the first time since 1988. After weeks of predictions, hopes, and anxiety our worst fears were realized when Alabama romped all over the Irish and won 42-14. As if this crushing loss weren’t enough, earlier this week, all-star Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman trophy runner-up, Manti Te’o, was wrapped up in a strange and elaborate scheme.
If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a quick synopsis. Manti lost his grandmother and his girlfriend on the same day in September 2012. While his grandmother did truly pass away at the age of 72, his girlfriend didn’t actually die. Actually, she never even existed.
Apparently Manti was the victim of a complicated hoax allegedly perpetuated by a man from California. Manti’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never really existed and, of course, never really died. How could Manti not know that his girlfriend was a myth? Thanks to modern technology the football player claims that his relationship with Lennay was entirely online and over the phone. You can read more of the details here. For me, just one word describes the whole situation: bizarre.
It would be easier if Manti Te’o were some kind of ‘bad boy’ in sports. If he had a negative reputation, this hoax business would just be more reason not to like him. What stings about the situation is that you really want to like this guy.
Manti is an incredible athlete all the way from Hawaii who became a leader on the Notre Dame football team and helped usher the program back into the national spotlight. His coaches, teammates, and family all spoke of him as a humble young man, with impeccable character, and a big heart. Now everything he did on the football field and everything people said about him is clouded by this weird scandal.
My Notre Dame pride can’t take much more. I still love the university and had an incredible time there as an undergrad, but it’s not easy being kelly green.
The dismay I feel, though, goes deeper than a frustrating situation involving a likable linebacker. As human beings we’re always looking to someone or something to believe in. We look to legendary athletes like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones to be our champion. But they fail us. We look to groups of people like our elected officials or our teachers to give us something to cheer for. But they fail us. We look to institutions like the government or a university to bring us hope. But they, too, fail us.
When people and organizations fail us we start to become skeptical. We have been let down so often that we begin to question everyone and everything. We know we are setting ourselves up for more disappointment if we start to put our faith in something outside of ourselves. So that leads to a second response, putting faith in ourselves. We say, “I can’t trust any other person or organization. I can only trust myself.” We become the ultimate arbiters of truth.
The problem with being a truth unto ourselves is that we’re often wrong. We’re no different from the people who let us down. They are flawed human beings and so are we. What makes us think that our opinions and judgments are any less prone to error than someone else’s?
We can’t put our ultimate trust in ourselves or anyone else. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked; who can understand it.?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Others will let us down, this is true. But we live in darkness if we think our own hearts are any more reliable.
There is only one person who ever lived who has never and will never fail those who put their confidence in him. Jesus Christ came as the hero we always hoped to find. He is our Rock, our Shield, and our heavenly champion. Although he died a humiliating death, He rose again in splendor. And he is coming again. This time, instead of on a cross, he’ll be on a white horse with a crown on his head and ready to secure final victory over sin and death (Revelation 19:6).
Jesus is the only proper ground of our faith and trust. He is the only one who will never let us down. The only scandal He has ever been involved in is the scandal of the cross. A crime that we as sinful human beings inflicted upon an innocent man.
I don’t know if Manti Te’o was complicit in this phony girlfriend scheme. I really hope that he was just a gullible victim of a sad and odd prank. But what if we find that the golden boy of the Golden Dome isn’t the shining example we thought he was? We’ll be disappointed, sure. Even shocked. But we won’t be rocked to our core.
I still say, “Go Irish!” But if not, it’s okay. I have a firmer foundation than a football player. He is a person, and his name is Jesus Christ.
“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation…Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Psalm 146:3,5).