I have followed the Manti Te’o saga as close as anyone over the past few weeks. Ever since the news broke that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua who supposedly died of leukemia back in September was revealed as a fictitious figure I have spent countless hours reading news stories and interview transcriptions in order to make an attempt to understand this complex situation. As things begin to become clearer it appears that while Te’o was the victim of a horrific hoax, he has also admitted that he continued to play off the story even after he knew that Kekua wasn’t real. I have come to the conclusion that the culture that Te’o lives in plays as much a part in the hoax as anything else.
After the story first broke some of the first quotes about the situation came from members of the Notre Dame Football team. In these statements players came out and said that they felt that Te’o was making too much out of his “girlfriend”. It appears that at least some of the Irish players felt that since Te’o never actually met Kekua in person she couldn’t possibly be that close to him.
Throughout the season Te’o stated that he had met Kekua at a Stanford football game where she supposedly went to school. Te’o’s parents had even gone as far to say that the couple had vacationed together in Manti’s native Hawaii.
Now we know that Lennay Kekua was a fictional character made up by a former high school associate of Te’o, Roniah Tuiasosopo. The reasons for this strange behavior by Tuiasosopo are still being investigated and may never be fully known or understood but what bothers so many people is how much did Te’o really know and why did he mislead people as to the true nature of his relationship with Lennay? In my opinion, the answer to this is simple; it is part of his Mormon culture.
Now if you stop reading the article here you will come away with the wrong idea. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, are not taught or encouraged to lie. In fact, far from it, they are expected to be honest in all their dealings with others. However, this is also a culture where families are of the utmost importance and where it is very common for young adults to marry while in their late teens or early twenties.
Think of Te’o’s situation. He is a devout Mormon going to the biggest Catholic university in the country. There aren’t any Mormon girls to date and in the LDS culture there are many who believe he should be married, or at least in a serious relationship since after all he was 21 years old. Rather than having to answer questions about not dating, not having premarital sex, or not being married it would simply be much easier for everyone to know that he had a serious girlfriend in another state.
If Manti and Lennay were faithful Mormons a physical, intimate relationship would not have been permitted anyway before marriage so the idea of a serious relationship taking place over the phone and computer sounds completely plausible. Now we may never know exactly how long Manti went along with this story after he found out that it was false. I am not saying I agree with how everything was handled but I can definitely see why he did what he did. One has to wonder if this situation would have played out the way it did if Te’o had just attended BYU like many of the highly recruited Polynesian Mormon football players do.