If Manti Te'o Is Gay

If Manti Teo is gay, I'm worried about him. If the Notre Dame linebacker at the center of the "girlfriend hoax" story indeed constructed an elaborate cover story for his gay closet, as so many gay men do in worlds that demand they be heterosexual, the emotional jolt of humiliation and embarrassment at being exposed will be overwhelming. We've seen too many young people, particularly with backgrounds like Te'o's, growing up in the conservative, anti-gay Mormon church, pushed against the wall by homophobia and going to extreme lengths in denying their homosexuality, sometimes even harming themselves.

Cyd Zielger at Outsports was among the first to raise the possibility that Teo is gay, as the question exploded on social media. Ziegler came on my radio program yesterday and explained that sports writers were calling him asking if it was a possibility, trying to figure out what would drive someone to engage in such an elaborate hoax -- if indeed T'eo was in on it. Teo and Notre Dame have said he was not involved and was the vicitim of a cruel hoax in which he was led to believe a woman he never met but had an online relationship with for years actually existed, got in a car accident, was eventually discovered to have leukemia and died. But too many strands of the story don't add up if T'eo was the victim of a hoax perpetrated by others. Even if he was not in on it, he appears to have lied at the very least, having said he had met the woman.

If Te'o were gay, why would a closeted gay man go to such extremes? I asked the question on my radio program yesterday and the phones lit up with gay men who'd done exactly the same thing, or were still engaged in it. Living in conservative parts of the country or working in professions in which they believe they'd be fired if it became known they are gay, they construct elaborate stories of girlfriends or wives who never quite make it to company functions -- or who do, but are really good friends who stand in as girifriends or wives. (One of those "fake-date" women called the show too).

Why, however, would T'eo need to have his girlfriend get ill and die off? There was pressure from T'eo's family and from the media to meet her. True, he could have just broken up with her but that would not get the kind of attention that would embed his heterosexual identity in the sports media culture for some time to come, nor ward off questions of why he doesn't have a new girlfriend. It would be perfectly acceptable if he didn't date for a long time, traumatized by what happened.

But we also received many calls on my show yesterday from people who were catfished, the phenomenon of online hoaxes perpetrated by people who sucker gullible individuals looking for love. One man told the story of having met a man online who was in another country. After months of talking with him on the phone, he eventually sent the guy money for a plane ticket to bring him to the U.S. When the man arrived and got to U.S customs, he called to say the U.S. required cash to enter the country. The man wired him more money, only to never hear from him again. Some of these people who called in who were catfished believed Te'o was the victim of the same kind of hoax, while others believed his story didn't add up.

Some bloggers note that if Te'o was in on it, being gay and closeted would be the best possible scenario for him, in terms of getting sympathy from the public. But if that's it, it will be a bombshell to his conservative family and friends, who will also be exposed to the world, and I feel for him in weathering the coming days.