The Manti Te'o Hoax, from the Perspective of a Football Fanatic's Wife
A few months into my marriage, I was faced with the biggest and only secret my husband's ever kept from me: the man watches a lot more football than I ever imagined. Since those days, I've accepted that football will be on most weekends from August through February every year. While I can't admit to enjoying the game much more than I did seven years ago, I've learned how to share some of his passion: I simply can't get enough of the tearjerker human-interest stories.
Last season, nothing was more inspiring than the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. In September, the football star lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend within 24 hours. Or at least, that's what he said.
So when Deadspin issued a scathing report this week alleging the girlfriend's death was a hoax, I – along with many other football fans (if you can call me that) — was shocked. The writers explain a web of fake Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts used as part of the fraud; yet, I still question how Te'o could logistically pull off such a lie. Worse, who in their right minds would think such public deception is acceptable?
For one, Lance Armstrong. The famous cyclist finally admitted to doping charges during a sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey airing Thursday, though he has vehemently denied the accusations for years. In the interview he admits to doping as early as the mid-1990s and discusses the massive measures taken to cover-up his cheating. Which brings me back to Manti Te'o.
On Wednesday, just hours after Deadspin released their report, Te'o was quick to reply with a public statement expressing his innocence and stating he developed an emotional online relationship with a woman who duped him into believing not only her existence, but also her cancer-related death.
While I want to give Te'o the benefit of the doubt, it's difficult to after seeing just how well another public athlete, Armstrong, was able to use his power and public relations tricks to convince us of his innocence for so long.
But I'd be remiss to not mention another reason why I'm skeptical of Te'o's denial. Unfortunately, cancer hoaxes are becoming a trend especially on sites such as Facebook. Just Google "cancer hoax," and you'll find many similar tales of people pretending they or a loved one is dying of cancer, from former Hillsong artist Michael Guglielmucci's 2008 Leukemia claims to a more recent story of Warrior Eli, a Facebook campaign raising money for a child who never actually had cancer.
As the wife of a recent cancer survivor, I take even greater issue with people using cancer as a way to gain public sympathy or money. But as news of the Manti Te'o scandal broke I also couldn't help but recognize that my feelings of disappointment and frustration were also rooted in a lie I'd started to tell myself.
I want to believe all of this public deception is something new, something we can blame on the glorification of public athletes or the rise of social media sites. When I've talked to others about these cases I tend to say, "Can you believe this is what our world is coming to?!" But in reality, deception is nothing new. It is a part of human history since Adam and Eve's encounter with the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman."For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:4-5). As we know, Eve's pride wins out over God's instructions to not eat from the tree and the rest is, to state the obvious, the beginning of our sinful nature.
I hope and believe I won't ever try to pull off a lie as great as some of those we're seeing in recent news, but not a day goes by that I don't struggle with my own pride. If anything, Manti Te'o's story is a reminder of my own sins and the need for Christ's ultimate redemption.
Lesley Sebek Miller, a Westmont College graduate, lives in Sacramento, California. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her work has appeared in Relevant Magazine. She is a former social media director and has a particular fondness for discussing the intricacies of social etiquette in online communities. She blogs at http://barefooton45th.com.
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