How a fake dead girlfriend ruined football star Manti Te’o’s life

Plenty of people laughed at the expense of Notre Dame linebacker superstar Manti Te’o, whose personal life became all too public in early 2013 when it emerged that his sad story — namely that his grandmother and girlfriend had died on the same day — was one Lie as his supposed lover wasn’t real. But the truth is, Te’o’s saga remains a nightmare of unjustified humiliation and lasting, career-damaging damage, with Te’o’s mental wellbeing and NFL prospects both shattered by the revelation that he was the victim of a catfishing ploy. Te’o was transformed from a hero into a figure of mockery, though, when The friend who didn’t exist claims he is indeed someone worthy of our pity and sympathy.

The premiere of the second season of the Netflix non-fiction series Untold, The friend who didn’t exist (Aug. 16) is a two-hour investigation into a seedy ordeal that is simultaneously an act of confession, air-cleansing, and healing for its two subjects. Te’o sits down for an in-depth interview with directors Ryan Duffy and Tony Vainuku, describing his stratospheric highs and murky lows while answering many of the questions that have dominated TV and talk radio after his national embarrassment. Te’o is simultaneously enthusiastic, serious and sad as he recounts his experiences, his excitement as he talks about his glory years with the Fighting Irish is offset by the haunted, teary-eyed expression that grips his face, as he recalls the emotional hurt he suffered and the tabloid disaster that followed.

However, Te’o is only one side of the coin, and The friend who didn’t exist benefits from the additional participation of Naya Tuiasosopo, the person who began an online and phone/SMS romance with Te’o by impersonating Lennay Kekua, a fictional woman. In the years since their relationship, they have been fodder for CNN, ESPN and Saturday night live, Tuiasosopo came out as a transgender woman, and while the two-part episode of Duffy and Vainuku notes that no one interviewed for this documentary knew of her transformation at the time of filming, she is nonetheless central to the Procedure. Open and apologetic – albeit to a degree that probably won’t satisfy every viewer – Tuiasosopo fills in the blanks about how it all came about. In doing so, she paints this trick that went awry as a result of her identity-related challenges, which may not be much of an excuse for the monumental and lasting damage she’s done, but at least explains the basics of this mess.

As explained in The friend who didn’t exist, Naya was never comfortable in her own skin and eventually responded by creating a fake online persona, Lennay, that more accurately expressed how she really felt. To back up this cover, she used photos of a high school friend named Diane O’Meara before texting various men. Raised in a Polynesian clan that prioritized faith, family and football, Naya had an immediate bond with Te’o, whose cousin Lennay verified as legitimate (since they had previously chatted online) and who believed Naya to be a kindred spirit who referred to could relate to every aspect of his life. Before long, they were practically dating. Te’o’s best friend and teammate Robby Toma admits it was all a bit strange, but he also concedes that long-distance romances weren’t uncommon (he’s been in one himself). Additionally, since it made Te’o happy — and helped him deal with the oddness of moving from his tropical Mormon Hawaiian community to the Catholic cold of Notre Dame in the Midwest — it seemed largely like a positive outcome.

As the two grew closer, Te’o’s sporting success soared, and the linebacker became a key defensive leader and, just as importantly, a popular example of Notre Dame’s religious and service values. However, things started to fall apart on September 12, 2012 when Te’o’s grandmother died and hours later Naya – fearing how far things had gone – called Te’o and told him, impersonating Lennay’s brother, that Lennay was fatal had died of leukemia. That double whammy turned Te’o’s later success on the field into a feel-good tale that gripped the country, culminating in his nomination as a Heisman Trophy finalist and his performance as Notre Dame in the National Championship game against Alabama. The problem was that Naya refused to let Lennay dead, and when Deadspin received an anonymous tip about this big lie, it was only a matter of time before Naya’s charade was exposed.

“The portrait that emerges is that of a young man who was overly trusting and caught up in his own righteous savior image, and who paid a terrible price for his naivety, so extreme he didn’t even know what “catfishing” was. means. was then.”

Probably the most fascinating aspect of The friend who didn’t exist is dead spin Reporters Tim Burke and Jack Dickey’s admission that their motivation for pursuing this story was to shame the national media for failing in their basic task of fact-checking regarding Te’o and his trauma. Nonetheless, the focus of the water coolers quickly shifted to other things: How could Te’o be so gullible? Had he been complicit in this plan? Did he invent this fake girlfriend to hide his homosexuality? Te’o and Naya take viewers step-by-step through their simultaneous journeys, making it clear that the entire operation was hatched by Naya (and Naya alone) and that Te’o was just fooling the media – during the few days around the Heisman ceremony when he first learned Lennay might be alive – out of fear and confusion. The portrait that emerges is that of a young man who was overly trusting and caught up in his own righteous savior image, and who paid a terrible price for his naivety, which was so extreme he didn’t even know what “catfishing” was. means. was then.

Unattended and forthcoming in his extended on-camera conversation, Te’o inspires empathy for his undeserved plight. The same isn’t true for Naya, whose gender dysphoria was clearly the catalyst for her evasion, but hardly exonerates her for committing it, especially considering the remorse she’s showing here is less than wholehearted. The fact that Te’o’s NFL dreams were forever compromised by this scam is power The friend who didn’t exist a sad commentary on the unreliability of people, the internet and flattery from the media – as well as a tragedy about an upright man and a bright future destroyed without just cause. How a fake dead girlfriend ruined football star Manti Te’o’s life


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