Mike Florio reported last week that NFL teams wanted to know during combine interviews if Manti Te’o is gay. University of Colorado tight end Nick Casa reported at the combine: “They (NFL Teams) ask you like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ Are you married?’ Do you like girls?”
Katie Couric asked Manti Te’o if her was gay.
What if Te’o answered yes?
And what if over the past few years hanging out with his Notre Dame teammates it’d been noticed and commented on that they had never seen Manti “hook up” with any of the dozens of Irish coeds who surround him?
Would it be so surprising that, to deflect the attention, he’d hang a picture of some attractive female in his locker and pretend she was his girlfriend who went to Stanford? And what if the pain of living with that lie was so great that, at the beginning of this year, in order to play the season with a clear conscience, Te’o killed the lie and had his mythical girlfriend die?
What if this were true?
Would we have the courage to look at our collective souls and conscience and condemn ourselves for the perverse media frenzy and public insatiability to crucify a young man who quite possibly could be caught in the cross hairs of the most horrific emotional mine field imaginable?
A couple of years ago while out to dinner with my wife, I ran into an old college baseball teammate, who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He was with a group of guys and slipped over to say hello to me. We talked for a while, and a few months later met up at a Red Sox game.
We got to talking about the past 20 years and he mentioned that he was gay and asked if I suspected it at the restaurant. I told him that I had thought it possible, but I never thought so in college. We got to talking about how unenlightened our college years were and he talked about the difficulty of sheltering his identity from us.
Watching the Te’o story unfold got me thinking. If it was that difficult for my teammate on a college team nobody cared about to reveal his sexual orientation to his teammates, imagine the difficulty that Te’o would encounter.
Ethnically Te’o is Samoan. In Samoan culture, there is no such thing as homosexuality. So to be gay and Somoan is to be invisible.
Religiously, Te’o is a Mormon. According to Wikepedia, the Mormon LDS Church historically taught that the practice of homosexuality was a choice or a curable mental illness.
Academically, Te’o chose to go to Notre Dame, the flagship Roman Catholic University. Catholicism teaches that homosexuality is considered disordered in the sense that it is said to be “ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
Athletically, Te’o won the Butkus Award which is given to the best collegiate linebacker and is synonymous in American culture with physical brutality and manliness.
Which of those identities — Samoan, Mormon, Catholic school student, Butkus Winner — would provide enough emotional intelligence for a young man to admit to being gay?
Who wouldn’t try to hide that? Who would have the courage at 21 years of age, to stand up and say, I’m gay when it goes against the fiber of your ethnic, moral, academic and athletic institutions, and could cost millions of dollars in endorsements?
What if this scenario were true? If so, then Te’o like thousands of young gay people across our country are not only told by their spiritual, academic, athletic and cultural institutions that they are mentally ill and morally corrupted, but they’re derided and humiliated by the public.
But what if?
What if we lived in a nation that didn’t relish the opportunity to tear people down? What if we lived in a nation where people were free to be themselves? What if we lived in a nation where our religious institutions didn’t condemn our family members and friends as morally and mentally ill?
What if the type of manliness the Butkus Award came to stand for wasn’t for having the physical ability to intimidate the opponent, but for possessing the emotional intelligence, physical toughness and mental acumen to inspire others away from the dark recesses of hatred and ignorance, into the light of a more open tomorrow.
Pete Delani is a former head baseball coach at Masconomet, where he is currently an assistant principal.