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Spiegel: Manti, Catfishing And A Plausible Theory

By Matt Spiegel-

(CBS) It can happen. What Manti Te'o is saying happened to him can, and does, happen.

People create online personas completely unlike themselves, to create excitement in their boring lives, to pretend to be what they've always envisioned for themselves, or more nefariously to try and dupe the naïve for sport.

And naive, unsuspecting, lonely people fall prey to it. The question is, could Manti Te'o really be one of these people?

I've seen the movie Catfish, a couple of times. The film itself may be an elaborate hoax, but the very fact that it's believable is testament to the phenomenon. The TV series is more straightforward in showing you how often and easily these things take place.

Make a profile on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Grab a picture or three from some small town person you wish you were. Target your mark, and let the game begin.

I believe that at the beginning of this story, there is the real possibility that Manti Te'o was the victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by Roniah Tuiasasopo. Roniah (and others?) created Lennay Kekua; her internet history (and scam attempts) go back to 2008. NFL running back Reagan Mauia says he knew her, even met her (?!) before Manti did. Some things came out late last night on twitter, in this ever-developing story, supporting the premise that Te'o was played.

So let's grant that Te'o was the victim, initially. I believe at some point, he realized what had happened to him, and joined into the game.

People do that too. I had a friend in Los Angeles, who ended up in an online relationship with a woman he began to realize was full of it. That elusive first face to face meeting always seemed to be held up by odd circumstance. Eventually he realized it was all lies. No, she hadn't dated a Lakers forward. No, she didn't have a vacant house on the ocean north of LA.

My friend didn't just abandon the charade and move on at that point; he continued to call, text, chat, and volley with her. He tried to catch her in her lies. They toyed with each other, making weird power plays in a spiral towards her eventual shame. Ask me for stories sometime after a beverage or three.

I believe Te'o, at some point in the process, became complicit. And it was public by then; the truth would embarrass him, damage his growing public profile, and distract his surprisingly good team.

So the lies grew. They met on the field after a Stanford game in 2009? They would, in father Brian Te'o's words to the South bend Tribune, "spend time together in Hawaii?" Did those myriad eight hour conversations actually happen, and with whom? Were these lies Manti told to everyone, his parents included?

He has questions to answer obviously. I hope they're asked today.

And so does Notre Dame.

The timeline says they knew on December 26, that Manti came to them with the "truth" a few weeks after he'd gotten a call from a dead woman. In the weeks leading up to the title game on January 7th they advised Manti to not speak the truth in interviews, so he could stay focused.

Football first, everybody; this is just the latest example of where the priorities will always, always stand.

Deadspin's phenomenal journalism forced the hurried statements and press conference from Notre Dame and Te'o yesterday, before they had a chance to try and massage the public perception. Now they're playing catch-up, and sloppily, dangerously so. Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick aligned himself fully with Manti last night, claiming he was 100 percent the victim. That's a needless precipice upon which to put your university's reputation.

The truth is going to be incredibly elusive in this story. It always is -- that's the allure of the "relationship" in the first place. That allure can and often does reel in both parties. I think Te'o was played, and then joined in. And of course, there may be something more insidious or personally vulnerable lurking beneath all of it.

Good luck to that young linebacker. His life is a mess. His good name is forever damaged. His psyche is clearly muddled and problematic. And he'll hear trash talk of epic levels in the NFL.

I have to think he helped do all of that to himself.

Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.

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