You are eating lunch at Legends on the Notre Dame campus. It’s got a sports bar atmosphere. On the walls are old black-and-white photos of Notre Dame heroes. Televisions are mounted all over the place, and every screen — doesn’t matter what channel — is showing Manti Te’o.
Much of your lunch conversation is about Manti Te’o. Pretty much every conversation you’ve had today has been about Manti Te’o.
People here — and Notre Dame fans across the country — want to believe Manti Te’o. You want to believe he totally got scammed in some kind of Catfish scheme and that his online girlfriend — the one whose life and tragic death helped inspire his nationally celebrated season — turns out to be a cruel hoax.
You want to believe he was totally duped — at least until the fabrication started to fray in December. Maybe he really was so young and naïve and trusting that his falling into this profound yet remote relationship with someone he never met was the extent of his culpability.
At least then you could attribute his role to nothing more than simple gullibility. Embarrassing perhaps, but nothing sinister.
And anyway, you don’t really understand the whole online social scene, courting people who are essentially strangers. What’s true with any part of that role-playing, make-believe world?
But even those wanting to give Manti Te’o the benefit of the doubt are nagged by questions, things that don’t add up. There are enough to unsettle your confidence, despite what others say and what you want to believe. You just don’t know for sure.
The alternative — that Manti Te’o was complicit in the charade all along — seems unfathomable to those who followed him all season, watched as his story unfolded week to week. Even the media celebrated his character, his demeanor, his maturity, how spiritually and faithfully centered he was. The feel-good story in a sport known too well for scandal.
But you don’t know.
Maybe if he’d answer those nagging questions, the media and blogosphere frenzy would dissipate. You think it might’ve been better for him to come forward first, rather than watching the media go like hounds after the fox. But who knows for sure. There’s family and Manti and Notre Dame and now agents to factor in, wondering how best to handle it all.
The whole episode is so riddled with puzzlement and uncertainty that it’s almost too incredulous, too bizarre. Parts could almost make you smile, except you feel so bad for Te’o right now. So you scratch your head and wonder who you can believe.
And isn’t that the essential thread of this whole saga — what’s true, who’s telling the truth, what is the truth?
From the perpetrator posing as Lennay Kekua to Manti Te’o, from the media who perpetuated the story to those now contributing comments, hearsay and opinion, a multitude has concerted to create a tempest of myth and legend and to now launch a hunt for what is real.
You think you can believe Manti Te’o, that maybe he was swept into currents too strong for such a young person to master, to easily extricate himself from.
But you live in a world where the truth is quicksilver slippery. You live in a world in which you do not believe your elected leaders when they speak about almost anything. In which the media have their own agendas. In which publicists and advertising agencies and television commercials deceive us — and say it’s how the game is played.
You have learned to question the words of institutional representatives and religious leaders. To doubt the athletes who say they aren’t doping and the corporate spokespersons who say this will do you no harm, or that this won’t really hurt the environment. Or coaches who say they aren’t leaving and general managers who say they’re 100 percent behind the coach one day and fire him the next.
And you know how the truth gets trampled, ignored and dismissed in our current cloud of online chatter — truth relegated to a distant third behind expediency and opinion. This is the world we live in today.
You want to believe Manti Te’o was a mere victim here. But you want to know the truth. You hope it comes out soon — as if truth ever really does.
Meanwhile, you’re also wondering what could possibly happen next to Notre Dame.
Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.