One of the more popular theories swirling online today is that Te'o wasn't just a shy dater, or even necessarily just trying to prop up his campaign for the Heisman trophy in the national media. (Sportswriters love a great hero tale of a Notre Dame player losing his girlfriend and grandmother in just a matter of hours.) Yes, a lot of people on the Internet think Manti Te'o is gay. And the sexuality cover-up conspiracy theory spawns largely from this passage in the Deadspin exposé, which involves a very odd friend of Te'o's, named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo:
Te’o wasn’t the first person to have an online “relationship” with her. One mark—who had been “introduced” to Lennay by Tuiasosopo—lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead.
So, yeah, it's kind of strange that Tuiasosopo was showing up instead of the made-up girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. But that would point to Tuiasosopo being the perpetrator, right? Well, sure, except it appears that Te'o and Tuiasosopo, may have been close. Deadspin adds:
USC was unable to confirm this, but a tweet from Tuiasosopo’s since-deleted account suggests he and Te’o did see each other on that West Coast trip. “Great night with my bro @MTeo_5! #Heisman #574L,” Ronaiah tweeted on Nov. 23, the night before the game.
Cyd Ziegler, a writer at Outsports, a gay sports website, took the gay rumor in stride:
There has never been a publicly out Div. 1 football player. But we know they’re out there. And if they were out there and wanted to hide their sexual orientation — or a relationship with another man — a fictitious girlfriend is a good way to do it. The fantastic story about car accidents and death by leukemia would just be showing off that stereotypical gay flair for the dramatic.
Nobody knows whether Te'o was colluding on the hoax with Tuiasosopo, but, hey, that's one theory as to why they might have been.
The Te'o Family Gets Involved, but Did They Know?
Thus far, neither Te'o nor Notre Dame have explained why his parents spoke out so publicly about the emotional story of the made-up girlfriend — or whether they were in on it. But the day after the Deadspin story broke, everyone seems to think they must have been. The Boston Globe, one of the paper's fooled by the story, is pinning some of the blame on Te'o's parents. "They could not have been nicer and seemed genuine," reporter Amalie Benjamin wrote. "They answered everything in a very sincere way without hesitation. There was never any indication there was anything fishy about what they said."
And it seems Te'o's parents won over the college paper as well. The South Bend Tribune tells us today:
In a taped interview on Oct. 10 with Te'o's parents, Brian and Ottilia, Te'o's father said the initial meeting between Manti and Kekua came in person in late November 2009, when Notre Dame played Stanford in Palo, Alto, Calif.
The detail included the touching of hands and the fact Manti thought she was cute.
If you look at that October 12 story, Te'o's father, Brian, really seems to buy into the narrative:
"They started out as just friends,' Brian Te'o said. "Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple."
"And we came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law. Sadly, it won't happen now."
If you're buying into Te'o and Notre Dame's explanation — that Te'o's relationship existed exclusively online, and then in a phone call from someone "who told him that she was, in fact, not dead" — then it appears Te'o may have just been relaying his victimhood onto his parents. But that's not stopping writers like USA Today's Rachel George from asking: "Why did Brian Te'o share that information? Did Te'o lie to his father?" And it's not stopping more people from asking whether the parents were in on it.