Kinder: Like Manti Te’o, we all had imaginary friends, right?

By Joshua Kinder

There was a time when I too had an imaginary friend.

Can’t remember his name, but I think it was John or something like that — not that it matters much.

The point is, I know where Manti Te’o is coming from, sort of. We all do in a way. I saw John. Talked to John. Asked John questions. We did everything together. You name it. He was there when my mom took me swimming. He was there when I ate lunch, dinner and even when I got in trouble. I know this because I often blamed it on him.

But, and this where it gets real, I seemingly ended my friendship with John before I entered grade school. Not sure what ever happened to him — was always a mystery — kind of like this too-good-to-make-up Te’o story.

There came a point when I apparently didn’t care   what happened to John either. He just faded away.

Sure, that sounds a little harsh for a friendship that meant so much to me so long ago before there were video games, cell phones or even the Internet. Yes, I’m that old. But that’s what happens, you grow up and leave the fantasy world behind.

Te’o on the other hand, well, he’s got something else going on. It came out this week that the star Notre Dame linebacker’s dead girlfriend wasn’t really a girlfriend at all — wasn’t even a real person. He calls it a hoax, says he’s a victim of a cruel joke and that he was played, kind of like Te’o played all of us.

Everyone was led to believe his beloved girlfriend — one that he never actually met — died in September on the same day as his grandmother. His season was dedicated to them both and we all thought, ‘wow, that’s unbelievable and sad.”

It was and is both of those things — but for so many different reasons than we once thought.

Te’o rode the story of the love of his life dying tragically all season. It was heartbreaking and we all believed it, every word of the story somebody concocted. Te’o was the Heisman Trophy runner-up — exactly where I voted him, behind Kansas State’s Collin Klein and ahead of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

With every passing day, we are learning more about this bizarre story. There’s stuff about a drug deal gone bad, a chase,  and now multiple people seem involved in the hoax. And yet there is still no such person alive, dead or real of any kind named Lennay Kekua. That’s what we know for sure.

The question, though, is how long Te’o knew this girlfriend wasn’t his girlfriend, or a girl or a friend or a person, for that matter. He says he learned it was a hoax on Dec. 6 — two days before he took center stage in New York for the Heisman. Yet, Te’o felt compelled to keep the heartbreaking story alive, unlike his fake girlfriend. He says he told his coaches about the hoax on Dec. 26. And still, we didn’t learn about it until this week, long after the Irish’s national title game loss to Alabama.

If Te’o was duped, why did he keep perpetuating the lie? That, if he truly was tricked, is the worst thing he did in this entire mess, other than being perhaps the biggest nincompoop on the planet. I’m hoping it was just a case of being naive. But even that, giving him the benefit of the doubt, is absurd when you really think about it.

Te’o is the big man on campus, the star at Notre Dame, a Heisman Trophy finalist and arguably the best defensive player in the country, and yet he decided this person he never met in person and only spoke to on the phone would be his girlfriend of girlfriends? Are you kidding me?

I want to know if it’s really that difficult for Te’o to meet a real girl? Does he not get out? Does he not have a heartbeat, eyes — is he even real? C’mon people. Just think about it.

Did he ever think, maybe this person isn’t really a person at all? Where were the red flags? I mean, “she” was the “love of his life” and they never chatted through video, saw each other in person, anything? Even when she was supposedly involved in a terrible car accident and then diagnosed with leukemia, he never went to California to see her in the hospital. And when she died, Te’o didn’t attend the funeral because she told him she didn’t want him to miss his football game. Again, really?

That’s why I’m not sold on his denial of involvement. It doesn’t make any sense. None of it does. Surely, this guy isn’t that gullible. Right? You have to ask yourself what he had to gain from this? The Heisman? He didn’t finish second because his imaginary girlfriend died. He finished second because he’s one of the best football players in the country.

So, again, why keep this thing going if he was truly duped?And if he wasn’t duped and had some part in this unbelievable story, why do it at all?

So many questions, and yet we probably may never really find out what exactly happened. Kind of like my old friend John.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | The Manhattan Mercury, 318 North 5th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502 | Copyright 2017