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The Girlfriend Who Never Was: Revisited with Sympathy for Manti Te'o Hoax | NFL

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T.In early 2013, two sports scandals dominated the American news cycle. The disgrace of Lance Armstrong and the humiliation of college football player Manti Teo. But Armstrong’s belated confession that he did dope to win all seven of his Tour de France titles rotted the American success he felt four decades after Watergate. Traditional in some way, Theo’s case seemed to offer a cautionary tale when told about the mind. The perils of the internet in an era when tech optimism was still raging, before bot accounts, misinformation, and online harassment became a feature of everyday life. But according to a new two-part documentary about Theo’s ordeal, which premieres on Netflix this Tuesday, the scandal should be understood as more than the simple tale of catfish fishing often presented. The romantic hoax at the heart of Theo’s national humiliation, as framed in Theo’s Unrequited Girlfriend, explores deeper and more interesting issues of identity, faith, and belonging in early-21st-century America, especially for minorities. It was something.

Almost a decade after this story fell prey to memes, a basic rundown of Theo Scandal is still fairly common knowledge. Same day in December 2012. An outpouring of national sympathy saw Theo rise to new heights of prominence on the field, with Notre Dame regulars finishing his season undefeated and Theo earning his spot in the 2013 NFL Draft. seemed destined for a first-round pick. However, there is one problem, which made international news in January 2013. Theo’s girlfriend Renai Kekua was not a real person. In fact, Kekua, who claims to be a Stanford University student and whom Theo pursued a purely online relationship, is the creator of his Facebook, a young man of Samoan ancestry who, like Theo, is from Seattle. was.

For Te’o, the transformation was swift and brutal. Literally overnight, he went from being an athlete pin-up on the cover of his Sports Illustrated to becoming a global joke.

Both Theo were portrayed as fools, as the story resonated on the Internet (Saturday Night Live showed Theo telling a newscaster about the moment he learned Renee had died. I said, “Hey, I have bad news. I’m dead.” The undertow came with Theo’s trauma masked, dissected, and glared obscenities (sportswriter Mike Florio tells MSNBC’s Ed Show, ”), while, Adding a degree of racism, one news report described the whole incident as “a strange Polynesian conspiracy that embarrasses Theo.”

The girlfriend who never existed combs through this history to show that Theo today is probably what it always was. He was basically a decent, hardworking, young man of deep Mormon faith, but perhaps a little too naive for his age. Weaponization of the Internet. One scene shows how Theo consulted his uncle’s lawyer after receiving a phone call from Renee, who was allegedly dead in late December 2012, and was told that Theo was actually alive. Explain what you asked for. “My uncle immediately said, ‘I think you’re being lured by catfish,’ and this was the first time someone brought up the term ‘catfish.’ I didn’t know what catfish fishing was. Even when he explained what it was, I couldn’t even understand what it entailed.

Since then, hoax Naya Tuiasosopo, who has come out as a transgender woman and uses pronouns, invented Renee and addressed her with photos stolen from former high school classmates and an entire constellation of extended families and friends on Facebook. I gave you a profile. My first contact with Te’o was through this Facebook account. Thanks to Tuia Sosopo’s genius at impersonating female voices, the relationship was maintained over months of texts with her messages and phone calls.

A note added at the beginning of each episode of The Girlfriend That Wasn’t Exist included extensive fresh interview footage with both Theo and Tuia Sosopo, stating: [Tuiasosopo] I identify as a transgender woman. As a result, most of the participants in the documentary unintentionally got the dead name Tuia Sosopo. This seems particularly unfortunate because what makes the series most interesting is the insight into Tuiasosopo’s state of mind as the perpetrator of the hoax. The deep confusion I felt about my identity when

“Renee’s profile wasn’t necessarily a loophole, it was a path to something else,” she says. “At that time, there was definitely something inside me that made me want to shout, ‘Why am I different? Let’s see where this goes. I knew what was right and what was wrong, but I was so in love with being looked at like this. That was what I wanted to make a reality. ”

The glue that held Te’o and Lennay/Naya together was not the internet itself, but just the tools in their common background story. Renee was a sham, but Tuisosopo imbued the character with her own personality. She has her own interests, her own tastes in her music, and most of all her own ethnicity. Te’o and her Tuiasosopo are both from Samoa and young people her age, now in her early 30s. Attempts to navigate her two particularly important elements of Samoan identity: family and faith commitments, with sometimes conflicting energies. life in America.

Manti Teo is interviewed by Katie Couric in the days after the hoax was unraveled in 2013.
Manti Teo is interviewed by Katie Couric in the days after the hoax was unraveled in 2013. Photo: Lorenzo Bevilaqua/AP

For many Samoan Americans, football is often a connection to the larger culture around them. Tuia Sosopo comes from a football family, with his father playing for his USC, his uncle playing for the Rams, and his cousin playing for the Raiders.

“But I hate football,” she says in The Girlfriend That Never Was. “I just wanted to play football out of obedience and make my father happy. But I completely felt the weight of this fear. I was a man by nature and I truly believed that I could never become the person I wanted to be. I decided that I could do it.

Theo’s experience was different. His love for football came naturally, and as a high school player, it was clear he was destined for great things. As their online relationship developed, Renee advised Theo on defense work and texted him messages such as “I recommend managing the pace and flow of defense babes.” Tuiasosopo explains:

But what makes Theo and Tuiasosopo’s story is their shared background and shared quest that makes it so compelling, no matter how unfortunate its final development. A canvas on which we project our plans as minority children in a white-dominated America.

After the scandal erupted, Tuiasosopo returned to American Samoa and found support among the local LGBTQ population. This includes a large and established community identified as faafafine, meaning third gender or non-binary.

“I had to start living my life,” she says. “And I wanted to live my life as a transgender person. [about the hoax], and sometimes wish that everything was undone. But thanks to the lessons I’ve learned throughout Renee’s life, I’ve learned a lot about who I am today and who I want to be. ”

For Theo, the years since the hoax became public have probably not been so kind: As a second-round draft pick in 2013, he had three moderately successful seasons with the San Diego Chargers, but his last The NFL game was 2019. Before his first preseason game with the Chargers in 2013, he felt his whole body go numb.

“My first three years with the Chargers were like that. And it was such a contrast to that kid from Notre Dame. The football field, that was my domain. I feel like I’m second to none, and I played free, I played fast, I played physical, and that’s what made me great,” he said. increase. “Now I’m in the NFL and questioning everything. Every day I was trying to figure out how to get rid of this anxiety, this numbness, this tingling. I figured out all these ways to reprogram myself.” Ultimately, he went to see a therapist who told him to forgive the hoax: “It’s not your fault what happened to you,” the therapist told him. .

Despite this breakthrough, the documentary reveals that the experience remains deeply traumatic for Theo. “I accept all jokes, I accept all memes, so I can be an inspiration to anyone who needs me.” By venting the pain publicly, you’ll find some peace in your quest to resume your still-young life, and finally find your place in the vicious turmoil of 2020s America.