Picture this: a high school-turned-collegiate football phenom from a family of similarly-gifted pigskin pushers, fresh off an incredible four years at Notre Dame University. He is crushed by the deaths of two women very close to him — his grandmother and doting girlfriend — within hours of each other. He goes on to lead his team to an epic upset victory against rival Michigan State. A surefire prospect for the upcoming NFL draft. This is the life of Manti Te'o: an inspirational one, at least at first glance. But there's a huge chunk of it that's also a lie. A big, weird, rambling lie.
You know what they say: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and while there's not a lot of good in the story (lying, cover-ups, potential Catfishing), there is a lot of hearsay and potential absolutely scandalous revelations. This is why the Manti Te'o tale is the greatest thing to happen to sports.
Sure, there's lots of things about sports that people care about and like, but the Te'o story crosses all boundaries of interest — it is a universal lightning rod for controversy and proverbial rubbernecking. In the incredibly weird narrative, several players are involved. Deadspin lays it out in extensive detail, but here's everything you need to know quickly and easily:
Manti Te'o is an NFL draft prospect, Notre Dame alumnus, and resident of Hawaii. A Mormon and longtime fan of USC (his family has a veritable smorgasbord of football players in it), he used faith and prayer to decide on Notre Dame. He long purported to be friends with (and later date) a girl named Lennay Kekua of California. On September 12, Te'o's grandmother and (six hours later) girlfriend (Kekua) passed away. His grandmother — and her death — were both confirmed as real events.Lennay Kekua was allegedly a 22-year-old Stanford graduate, friend of Te'o's since the two allegedly met at a football game in 2009, and eventual girlfriend of Te'o as of January 2012. She died hours (or maybe days? No one seems to have a straight answer) after Te'o's grandmother — after a major car accident followed by the discovery that she had leukemia. Oh yeah, she's also 100% fabricated. By Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a religious singer and former classmate of the actual woman used in Kekua's photos. He's also a very close family and personal friend of Te'o's. He was also in a major car accident in California, about a month before Kekua was allegedly injured. He may have also made up Kekua's sister, U'ilani Rae Kekua.U'ilani Rae Kekua is the faux-sister of Lennay Kekua. There is speculation that this account was also made by Tuiasosopo. U'ilani also frequently tweeted with Te'o. Photos claimed to be U'ilani were actually of a woman named Donna Tei. Tei apparently attempted to contact Nev Schulman of Catfish fame (the show and the movie) after realizing her photos were being used without her knowledge.
So, you can see the appeal of a story so bizarre and seemingly shrouded in mystery and lies (probably from everyone involved). Now that the story has broken, it seems everyone is singing different tunes: Te'o is asserting he was the victim of a hoax, but his seemingly close relationship with Tuiasosopo makes it hard to believe that it could go on for as long as it did. But is it possible? Well, if you watch the show Catfish, you'll know that it is: in episode 7 of the show's inaugural season, a boy named Joe believed he had fallen in love with former Miss America Keri Ann Peniche, only to later discover it was his close friend Rose the whole time. Now, if you believe this particular episode's authenticity then you know: sometimes even the best of friends go to really weird lengths to have a relationship with someone they have feelings for: heck, that's the point of the show, to an extent!
That said, it is also entirely possible that Te'o was aware of Kekua's true identity the whole time. Think about it: a hotshot sports star (a scene that isn't generally the most accepting of non-heteronormative lifestyle choices) who's deeply religious, and a friend who's set up a fake female profile online to talk to the person he already knows in real life, who is also deeply religious? Could this double-cross simply be an attempt to maintain a secret relationship between two young, gay men? Plus the added "inspirational quotient" that comes along with turning around an entire football franchise single-handedly — especially during a tragedy. We all know everybody loves a story with a good triumph at the end — and Kekua's death and illness play into that like a screenwriter's dream. Which, of course would make this scenario all the more icky and terrible. But, hey, welcome to 2013! Repression and deception when it comes to sexuality are hardly anything new. And in this situation, it could actually make sense. Of course, only when the truth actually comes out will we know the real reasons behind this increasingly-modern tale of love and deceit in the Internet age.
In an official statement from Notre Dame, University Spokesman Dennis Brown explained the University's involvement as that of completely unaware and totally not at fault. "On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."
Te'o also released a confounding, meandering statement: "This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."
However the story unfolds, it seems one thing is for certain: this will not end well, for anyone except the viewing public. MTV, if you don't chronicle this on Catfish or if somebody doesn't make a movie about this, you have all failed us. Now get going!
What do you think of the Manti Te'o saga? Who do you believe? Sound off in the comments!
[Photo Credit: Kelly Kline/Getty Images]
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There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.
February 19, 2004 12:07pm EST
Mooseport is an idyllic little Maine town populated with equally idyllic folk including Handy Harrison (Romano) who owns the local hardware store and his veterinarian girlfriend of six years Sally (Maura Tierney). But Mooseport is also the vacation home of the former president of the United States Monroe "Eagle" Cole (Gene Hackman) who after two successful terms in office decides the sleepy community would be a great place to quietly live out the rest of his days. But the people of Mooseport delay the president's retirement when they convince him to run for Mayor which doesn't sit well with Handy. Unbeknownst to the town council he's also put in a bid for mayoral candidacy. Certain he could never beat the former president in an election Handy nearly backs down--but when the ex-prez makes a move on Sally unaware she is Handy's significant other he decides to stay in the races for both mayor and boyfriend. Regrettably it might be too late for the latter since Sally resents Handy's commitment phobia and has accepted a date with the president in retribution. Oh but who will she choose? The campaign gets thorny when Eagle's ex-wife Charlotte (Christine Baranski) arrives in town to help with Handy's campaign and the president's chief advisor of 15 years Grace (Marcia Gay Harden) discloses she has feelings for him.
All eyes are on Romano known to TV viewers since 1996 for his portrayal of New York City sportswriter and father of three Ray Barone on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Welcome to Mooseport is Romano's big-screen acting debut and he does a fine job shedding his popular television persona for that of a small-town handyman. But while Romano successfully crafts a character devoid of any Barone family attributes that character Handy is as one-dimensional as a blank script sheet. His love interest in the film played by Tierney (ER's nurse Abby Lockhart) gets fleshed out a little more and--unlike Handy--her character actually shows thoughts and feelings. A dedicated veterinarian Sally is a tough and outspoken woman with a heart of gold and she's impossible to dislike. More engaging is the relationship between Hackman and Harden two veteran actors who make the most of their cookie-cutter roles. As the charismatic onetime leader of the free world Hackman does his best Bill Clinton while Harden seemed more inspired by Condoleezza Rice a consummate professional and the president's indispensable right-hand woman. Welcome to Mooseport doesn't tap into its supporting talents as well: Baranski as the president's ex-wife and Fred Savage as his fresh-faced PR director deliver the film's rare laugh-out-loud moments but they're brought in for a couple of zingers and then left out to dry.
Donald Petrie who made his directorial debut in 1988 with the Julia Roberts starrer Mystic Pizza has a flair for helming fluffy comedies that succeed because of their star power rather than their stories (read: 1993's Grumpy Old Men starring Jack Lemmon Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret; Sandra Bullock's 2000 comedy Miss Congeniality; and last year's How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey). Now Petrie can add Welcome to Mooseport to the list. Although scribe Tom Schulman's (Dead Poets Society) screenplay is pretty imaginative his characters are unexciting and too goody-goody. Unfortunately the clever dialogue has been reserved for the supporting characters rather than its stars Romano and Hackman. Thus there are no bad guys to loathe (Eagle a career politician refuses to fight a dirty campaign) and Handy the underdog is too uninteresting to root for. Then there are all the unanswered questions: Where and how does Handy live? We only see him stacking shelves in the store and driving around in his truck. And why he hasn't made a commitment to Sally after so many years? While we find out somewhat at the end of the film why Handy has never proposed the revelation comes too late for us to care and until then the most personal thing we know about him is that he has a dog named Plunger.