In this April 21, 2012, photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o appears at the Blue and Gold spring NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. A story that Te’o's girlfriend had died of leukemia — a loss he said inspired him to help lead the Irish to the BCS championship game — was dismissed by the university Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.
The University of Notre Dame student body was abuzz.
“… girlfriend …”
“… grandma …”
“… what’s his agenda? …”
Students read Deadspin’s story to friends from phones. They lingered in front of the student center televisions, where incredulous commentators debated the timeline of events.
Everyone wanted to know one thing:
“Is it true?” asked Serena Mathews, a senior chemical engineering major.
When news broke Wednesday that star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o's inspirational girlfriend story was a hoax, students were shocked.
“If you had told me yesterday that within 24 hours dramatic news about Notre Dame would break, I would never in a million years have guessed it would be this,” said Alex Herrmann, a sophomore English and economics major.
What students called a “strange” and “surreal” situation left many with lingering questions about Te’o’s culpability.
“We have to ask the question, ‘Is Manti the guy we thought he was?’” Jeanette Kim, a sophomore accounting and romance languages major, asked.
But Mathews said she thought there were too many holes in the timeline for it to be true.
“My gut reaction? That this is not true,” Mathews said. “I mean, there were pictures on the Internet for three months and no one said, ‘That’s me!’? I also don’t understand how it was known that it was a Stanford student and no one said, ‘I wonder who this girl is?’ If it was someone at Notre Dame we would all have heard about her death.”
While some remained doubtful that Te’o was involved in the hoax, others — including sophomore film, television and theater major Nick Desmone — were quicker to place blame.
“In light of the Lance Armstrong thing, this week is, well, just about these celebrities being not who we thought they were,” Desmone said. “No matter whether or not he’s innocent, Manti Te’o must have had some role. For him to not have any responsibility in it is pushing my faith, I think.”
The university’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, held a press conference Wednesday evening.
Mathews said she was frustrated that the university knew about the hoax since Dec. 26 but chose to play defense anyway.
She drew parallels to the alleged sexual misconduct by a Notre Dame football player that triggered a public relations scramble just two years ago.
“Notre Dame has not done a very good job being transparent or upholding the higher moral ground we act like we’re on,” Mathews said.
There is speculation that Te’o will hold his own press conference later today, based on comments by Swarbrick last night. Many students said they are looking forward to hearing Te’o’s side of the story, beyond the statement released by CAA last night in which Te’o said he was a “victim” of a “sick joke.”
“I want our questions answered. We just want to know the truth. It would be so insulting if this was true after all we did for him and his family this season,” Kim said.
Chris Palmquist, a senior film, television and theater major, echoed Kim’s sentiments and said he hopes everything will add up.
“It would be a terrible situation if the Notre Dame family became the victim in this story,” he said.
Despite what Te’o might say, the judgment facing Notre Dame on social media is harsh, from tweets about its weak showing in the BCS National Championship to its handling of the situation from a PR perspective. Herrmann said that people will believe what they want, whether they have the full story or not.
“We’re all kind of worried that it tarnishes the name of the school and gives people another reason to talk bad about us,” he said.
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