Yesterday I came home from class to find Twitter had exploded—almost literally. Deadspin’s article uncovering Manti Te’o’s GirlfriendGate was everywhere, and so were the jokes, rumors and speculation. One of the most interesting questions being asked, at least to me, were the speculations regarding Te’o’s sexuality. Many have asked whether or not the entire hoax may have been concocted to conceal the fact that Te’o is gay.
What if this is exactly that—a very odd beard scheme? Does that make the actions excusable? I can understand why he might fake a girlfriend if this were the case. But wouldn’t it just be easier and less umm fraud-like to just play the “I’m waiting until marriage” card like everyone else?
I can’t lie an openly gay college star that was headed to a first round draft spot would be an almost instant icon for the gay community. A first in so many ways. The first out NCAA Division 1 football player. The first out and active NFL player. The first out and active male professional athlete in the United States. After so many years of waiting and speculating as to who would be the first openly gay professional male athlete and what would happen to that person’s career, the gay community would have its star, its answers and its validation in the sports world.
Okay maybe that’s a lot to ask. But I don’t think it’s too far from the truth.
A quick search for blogs about Te’o gay rumors yielded your usual suspects of speculation and homophobic garbage. The Blue Board on 247 Sports dedicated a thread to the question, “So Manti Te’o gay?” The responses ranged from armchair psychoanalysis as to his motives to hurling around “gay” as an insult to his masculinity and athletic ability. And that’s where this gets into dangerous territory.
Speculating that Te’o may actually be gay and that he fabricated this story and person to hide his sexuality for fear of being “outed” is understandable. Would it be a misguided attempt to play it straight? Yes. He wouldn’t be the first athlete to hide his sexuality for fear of losing his job, but he might be the first to win an Oscar while doing it. Speculation of this sort has some legs. Maybe not legs that can yet stand but still it has some semblance of a reasonable thought.
What I find problematic is the folks hurling, “Te’o is gay,” as an affront or an assault on his playing abilities, his intellect or his masculinity. Being an openly gay football player is not a negative. Being an openly homophobic troll IS a negative.
Is it probable that Te’o is gay and will come out? Not really. It’s more likely that Te’o, and those around him, saw an opportunity to score points with Heisman voters (and I’m sure it scored a lot of points). Tyler Moorehead of College Spun reported that his Notre Dame teammates claimed that he still had “relations” with other women during the time he was allegedly involved with “Lennay Kekua.” Unless they’re all imaginary—which hasn’t been ruled out—it’s more likely that Te’o saw a big fat check at the end of the publicity rainbow and not the other rainbow.