It was inevitable that it would come to this for Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. While nobody outside of a handful of people are aware of whether Te’o was in on the hoax that fooled and shamed the media as well as the entire nation, rumors within NFL circles are circulating that Te'o's sexuality fueled his desire to push the narrative of his relationship with Lennay Kekua.
CBS Sports columnist Mike Freeman believes this theory has some validation. “Theory about why Manti did what he did has reached NFL team circles and if true absolutely explains his actions”.
Freeman also tweeted: “If this theory is true, Manti would end up being one of the most important stories in history.”
Presumably, the theory is that Kekua was Te’o’s phantom girlfriend, or beard. Just for a primer, beards are colloquial terms for members of the opposite sex who serve as false love interests for gay men or lesbian women.
If the theory has some basis in reality, you’d have to feel some pity for Te’o. Hypothetically speaking, a Polynesian-born, Mormon attending the nation’s most prestigious Catholic attempting to go pro in one of the most masculine professions in the world would be a plausible excuse for creating a beard. However, using her “death” as a rallying cry around the season is where the whole charade went off the rails.
Cyd Ziegler of Outsports.com offers a unique opinion on the potential obstacles a young man with Te’o’s upbringing would encounter growing up homosexual.
Te’o has lived most of his life at the nexus of some of the most homophobic corners of society. Growing up Mormon isn’t easy for any gay person. And if he is gay, he has been pelted all his life with messages telling him he is less than human. In 2008, as he was selected which college to attend, the Mormon church mounted a multi-million-dollar campaign to kill same-sex marriage rights in California.
He proceeded to pontificate.
If it was just the Mormon Church someone like Te’o had to contend with, that would be one thing. But there’s so much more.
The school Te’o chose to attend was Notre Dame, a Catholic school. The head of the Catholic church, Pope Benedict XVI, has waged a war on homosexuality since becoming the pope in 2005. For years Notre Dame itself has forbidden the existence of a gay-straight alliance student group on campus because of the school’s religion.
However, we have to remember that this is more speculative than anything.
By perpetuating this rumor, Te’o’s story just flipped from a catfishing cautionary tale into another potential minefield of innuendo and sociological soapboxing. Let’s not jump out ahead of ourselves into further sensationalizing an already sensational story. After swinging in the dark during Te’o’s inspirational season, speculating on his sexuality could be another black eye for the journalism. We could use a chance to walk back to our corners and sniff a few smelling salts.
It should also be noted that since Deadspin’s story broke, scouts have been making the claim that as long as it isn’t revealed that Te’o was complicit in the hoax, his draft stock should remain unaffected for the most part. It should be interesting to see whether these rumors affect his draft stock. If hip-hop could accept homosexuality in 2012, certainly the NFL could accept the gay Jackie Robinson in 2013, right?
A potential top-ten pick being outed by the national media while he prepares for the NFL Draft would be incredibly burdensome. If a pro athlete in one of the major team sports were to come out of the closet, it should be on his own accord and not by being hounded by the media or fans. Or else, the whole exercise is moot. We're not supposed to see color or ponder about sexuality.
Te’o allegedly withdrew from the Senior Bowl in advance of Deadspin’s story hitting the net for the sake of avoiding the media fervor. Dez Bryant’s pre-draft experience is going to look like a tea cup ride compared to the rollercoaster awaiting Te’o over the months leading up to April’s draft.
If the media takes this story and runs with it, we’ll either score a touchdown with the story of the century or take the five-yard loss and keep the chains moving until we catch our next headline. 16 years ago, a Dallas Morning News columnist insinuated in a book about the Dallas Cowboys that quarterback Troy Aikman was gay. Aikman still receives inquiries about his sexuality while Bayless has simply used the publicity as a springboard to his career as ESPN's habitual line stepper.
Regardless of what happens next though, the rest of us will keep on ticking but Te’o will likely be stigmatized throughout his NFL career whether these rumors are true or not.