You’ve Seen Manti Te’o’s Imperfect Life; Now Get Back to Yours

It’s late tonight.  Henry’s asleep, getting his rest as he should at 100.  Bob and I cut Henry a lot of slack because he’s elderly.  He’s got a heart of gold, and has been through the ringer since his stroke and the loss of his beloved Sylvia just over one year ago.  Maybe it’s time to cut some of that same slack to someone much younger.

Being in the business of shielding older and seriously ill people from the unnecessary unpleasantries life can sometimes bring, I (fill-in blogger Lisa) feel compelled to write about Notre Dame’s extraordinary athlete, Manti Te’o.  His recent “incredible embarrassment” disclosure about an imaginary girlfriend has caused an uproar, with no let up in sight.

I don’t know Manti.  I can’t impartially judge his situation from the insane media frenzy surrounding him in the wake of his hoax disclosure.  But I feel we could all use a reality check right now.  Especially with wars raging, people starving, and healthcare lacking, if you know what I mean.

I have two points I’d like to make about this story.

One:  Manti is an elite athlete and a real student.  He doesn’t seem to be a bully or a calculated liar.  Manti is a young, perhaps a bit naive adult, with much to learn about life (and he has plenty of good company.)  However, at 21, Manti does not appear to be well-versed in privately or publicly coping with being the victim of a hoax.  Who is at the age of 21?  Perhaps that’s one reason why he spoke publicly about Lennay Kekua as his girlfriend even after he informed the University of Notre Dame he believed he had been the victim of fraud.

Two:  I believe it’s entirely possible once he was duped online, he simply didn’t know how to handle it.  With so much pressure on him to perform and reach the BCS championship game, it would be so much easier  to continue to live out the fantasy he unwittingly bought into for as long as possible.  He has the crisis coping skills of a 21 year-old.  And they’re not great.  Can we leave it at that?  Who, at 21, believes he/she has the skill to effectively cope on their own with a significant crisis, especially with so many eyes on you?

If I were Manti I’d be embarrassed, too.  At 21, a young man surrounded by pressure and expectation, he wasn’t left with a safe place — public or private — to go and unload without being judged in a circus atmosphere or the pressure-cooker environment that is the NCAA’s BSC race to the top.  I love football, but I need to ask why we continually expect our great athletes to be perfect on and off the field, 24/7.   It’s unreasonable.  And it’s not fair.  Especially when an athlete is 21.

“Te’o’ing” has become a sick parody on the internet now.  So many immature males (I can’t say “men”) wrapping their arms around imaginary girlfriends.  Why is it so easy to take the low road?  What does it say about us as a society that reveres its football heroes, but refuses to extend a break when one takes a knock so hard it’s likely he can’t cope with the aftermath by himself?

Let’s try to keep this simple and sane.   Manti was drawn into a fantasy, didn’t know how to get out, and was too embarrassed to ask for help.  Give a very young man a break and let’s all get back to our own imperfect lives.  And while we’re at it, let’s try to remember how to communicate with one another the good old-fashioned way:  direct human contact.

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