When I was in middle school, AOL chat rooms occupied most of my and my girlfriend’s time. We thought it was hilarious to talk to boys our age, while pretending that we were 19 or ::gasp:: even 20! We’d then talk to creepy 40-year-old men, doing the same schtick. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we were in any danger (I mean, I’m sure we probably were, but at the time we thought we were safe and sound.) We were well aware that these men were creepy, and found much joy in making fun of them, duping them into believing we were something we weren’t. These chats usually didn’t last much more than an hour, before we went about returning to real life.
Some people never return to real life. Some people are unappreciated at home and unfulfilled at work. Some get their jollies in knowing that they’ve tricked an innocent person into thinking that they are something that they’re not. Some people are simply desperate to create a different life for themselves. What easier, quicker way to do that than by creating a virtual life?
There have been countless primetime news specials about this very subject. The documentary “Catfish” covers this, too. A handsome, young guy falls in love with a woman he met online. He becomes friends with her family and friends and talks to her on the phone daily. After some research, it’s determined that this woman, “Megan” was entirely made up by a woman named Angela. According to the film’s Wikipedia page, “Angela confesses that the various personae were fragments of her personality enacting fantasies of her life if she had made different choices.”
I’ll spare you the background story on this, because I’m sure you’ve already heard. If not, take a look at this Deadspin article.
I’m not saying that I am certain that Te’o wasn’t in on this hoax. If it comes out that he helped create the whole persona of Lennay Keuka, his girlfriend of a year who passed away from leukemia on the same day that his grandmother died, I’m not going to be shocked. But I also won’t be surprised to learn that Te’o really was the victim of some elaborate online scheme.
Te’o comes from a very religious family, from a very small island in Hawaii. That alone leads me to the conclusion that he could have been a very naïve boy, er, man. He had spent 19 years of his life in a very sheltered community. He then chose to go to Notre Dame, which is also a very sheltered community. Do I find it hard to believe that he started a relationship with a woman he met online? No. Do I find it hard to believe that he dated and fell in love with this woman without ever seeing her in person? Eh, that’s where I’m 50-50.
Supposedly, she stood him up several times. She was stuck in school. She didn’t have the money to fly and meet him. She was in a car accident. She was sick with leukemia. So, why would he keep talking to her? Why would he keep this relationship going?
Because boys are stupid.
Why didn’t he go see her after she was in a car accident? Why didn’t he go visit her while she was having chemo? For starters, he was the quarterback of Notre Dame. I’m pretty sure that his life involved school work and football and maybe, MAYBE, a couple free minutes here and there to eat and go to the bathroom. He claims that whenever he was going to put football on hold and come see her, she begged and demanded that he stay where he was. Don’t let his team down! Play for her! It makes her feel better to see him do so well!
Again, he was a 20-year-old kid. And football was, and is, his livelihood.
He did what she asked.
I think that this story can go either way, and I’m very interested in seeing where it ends up. I sincerely hope, for Te’o’s sake, that he was an unfortunate casualty of someone else’s hoax. I can’t imagine that many future NFL teammates will be quick to welcome him in their locker room after finding out that he killed a fake girlfriend off with leukemia, hours after his grandmother actually died.
There are many ways to make friends, but I don’t think faking cancer is one of them.