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January 18, 2013

Manti Te’o: Game over, man.

Posted in: homophobia,LGBT

Look, I have no idea whether Manti Te’o is gay. Only he can answer that question. But the football player’s fake dead girlfriend hoax story isn’t going away, and the number of plausible reasons for this fantastic charade occurring are dwindling.

Given that the primary fable foisted on the public by Te’o and Notre Dame — that he was a rube fooled by persons unknown, suckered into a Catfish snare/online relationship scam is falling apart (see: Buzzfeed’s “Two Days After He Knew It Was A Hoax, Here’s Manti Te’o Talking About Losing “My Girlfriend”), he’s down to only two other possibilities. Revising the list of my pal at DKos, Scott Wooledge:

“Te’o is either a) the most gullible person ever, b) a sociopathic liar, or c) a gay athlete. How interesting that GAY is the most sympathetic option.”

Cyd Zeigler of OutSports does go there, because, as a gay sports journalist, he has discussed the closet’s impact.

I’ve heard from sports writers, fans of Outsports, leaders in the gay-sports world, and even old high school friends, in the last six hours all wondering, “Is Te’o going to be the first openly gay NFL player?” Read for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

I personally don’t know. But it seems to be the question everyone is asking. If he is, I hope he finds strength and acceptance; The vast majority of his friends, teammates and fans will support him whole-heartedly. If he’s not, I hope he can answer some questions, because people want to know why on earth he would concoct this totally fabricated story — including eight-hour phone calls — if they never happened.

I can certainly understand why people think this might be pointing to his sexual orientation. There has never been a publicly out NFL player. There has never been a publicly out Div. 1 football player. But we know they’re out there. And if they were out there and wanted to hide their sexual orientation — or a relationship with another man — a fictitious girlfriend is a good way to do it. The fantastic story about car accidents and death by leukemia would just be showing off that stereotypical gay flair for the dramatic.

Now the mainstream media is really on the hook now if it avoids the question — according to Cyd, who addressed this on my Facebook wall, he’s heard from many sports writers who told him that they were scared to address the closet angle:

  • Cyd Zeigler Pam, they aren’t ignoring it, they simply are so gun-shy that they’ll get attacked by GLAAD and the rest of the gay community that they can’t go there. Though now that I wrote about it, some are mentioning that I wrote about it as a way to discuss it. 18 hours ago
  • Pam Spaulding Cyd, there’s no reason for GLAAD to erupt if they simply did their job as journalists. The problem is that they are gun shy because they equate sex life with sexual orientation. No one is digging into his sex life, the question is why anyone would go through such an elaborate hoax. And the answer is right there — homophobia in the media and in the sport at a PR level. I think he could come out and be accepted by his team. But now this story involves such levels of creative lying and enabling that raises questions about ethics, fear and desperation. Notre Dame should have stayed out of it.

And over at Notre Dame — what were those folks thinking? Whatever “investigation” it did prior to its hilarious press conference in support of the “Te’o was duped” tale, it must have involved a bargain-basement P.I., since Deadspin’s excellent research unraveling that the gf didn’t exist wasn’t exactly rocket science.

The university is going to come to regret taking on this PR disaster. If Te’o comes clean — and the closet turns out to be the reason for this mess, I hope that Notre Dame will support him; it would send some big, historical shockwaves in the media about homophobia, sports and the pressures on this young man. If they toss him under the bus for it that would be tragic.

I discussed this story with folks on Facebook yesterday, and it resulted in an interesting exchange. What’s important is whether the media avoidance of asking the simple question of whether the closet was the driving force for this. Not doing so implies it’s worse for Manti Te’o to possibly be gay than a rube or lying publicity hound. What they need to do is make it possible for the man to come out of the closet if he is, in fact, gay. So far the journalistic backflips to speculate every other scenario except the obvious give me little hope. How about this take at ESPN – Teo’s a schemer or prey…no consideration of a third possible motive.

“This can only play out two ways. Either Te’o is telling the truth or he’s a Lance Armstrong-caliber liar. Either he is a victim of a pitiless hoax or part architect of it. I want to believe Swarbrick. I want to believe Te’o. I want to believe there is a special place in hell for those who would prey on a person’s better angels.”

Or how about the pathetic bob-and-weave of Forbes’s Monte Burke, who whispers in our ear about the closet angle; he cannot even bring himself to say it, as if being gay is akin to being an ax murderer.

“Was Te’o hiding something else with a fictitious online girlfriend? This darker, more complicated question had been hinted at in various places online. I’ll let you dig it up if you want.”

What’s the motivation for Te’o fabricating meeting his fake gf? Whether he is gay or not, the elaborate nature of the hoax has now been enabled by Notre Dame, and any media outlet that doesn’t discuss the role of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te’o, who is allegedly behind the fake Twitter account isn’t doing its job. It’s becoming quite clear Te’o was in the know, and if he was, then the explanations for this fiasco are few, and the closet is just as valid a line of discussion as pimping himself for a Heisman through sympathy over a tragic hetero relationship.

Look at the list of major outlets that never bother to check whether Te’o's girlfriend was flesh and blood. It’s embarrassing. And now that the manure has hit the fan, here’s some epic #FAIL at damage control by the South Bend Tribune, trying to erase its story about Te’o meeting his fake gf.

It’s all a sad mess. My hope is that Te’o finds a way to be honest about why this occurred, for his own sake. This story will go down in the history books for all sorts of reasons because of its bizarre nature, but under the surface, there is a significant tale about how our sports culture loves to build heroes in very specific molds that makes it difficult to measure up to, especially when fame and fortune is enticing. That would explain the possibility that Te’o engineered this for publicity and the Heisman angle to some degree, but for god’s sake, isn’t there a better way to enhance your own PR than a stunt like this?

What isn’t in our sports culture is a template for a gay athlete to come out, yet the sports world does have redemption templates and excuses for the boys club of misogynists, sexual predators, violent felons and bullies in its ranks. Some self-examination is definitely in order.

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