Manti Te'o has spoken, so the story has evolved.
My opinion has not.
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I still don't believe Te'o was an unknowing, innocent victim -- not as late as December, anyway. Here's what I wrote Wednesday night, after Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick emotionally defended Te'o. I made it clear I didn't believe the Notre Dame version, but I never came out and said exactly what version I did believe.
So here's what I think. And it's pretty much what I've always thought -- before Te'o spoke to ESPN, and now that he has.
I think Te'o fell for a woman he met online, a woman he knew as Lennay Kekua. I think when this whole thing began three years ago, he was the gullible victim of a cruel hoax.
I think Te'o figured it out well before December. That's not what he told Swarbrick, but I don't feel badly about calling Te'o a liar; we already know he invented parts of this story. He admitted that Friday night to ESPN, though he used the word "tailored" instead of "invented." Whatever he called it, at some point he started telling lies about Lennay Kekua. The question is: When did the lies start?
I think the lies started before Lennay Kekua was said to have died of leukemia on Sept. 11. I think Te'o already knew Kekua was a hoax, and that he tailored invented her death because he didn't know how else to get out of this story. I think he already had told people -- family and teammates for sure, possibly even the media -- about his "girlfriend," and he wasn't about to admit his gullibility to friends, loved ones and strangers. So he panicked. In the hours after his grandmother died, he decided to mourn two losses instead of one: He told people that Kekua had died, too.
That's what I think.
I don't think Te'o was courting sympathy or Heisman consideration. Remember, when Kekua "died," it was Sept. 11. Notre Dame had played two games. The Irish were ranked No. 20. They were not thought to be a national championship contender, and Te'o was not thought to be a Heisman candidate. Both of those surges came later.
I think Notre Dame learned about the hoax in December and sat on this story, weeks before the BCS title game, out of self-protection -- and I don't blame the school for that. The days leading up to the title game are a free, nationwide infomercial for both programs. Notre Dame had earned that infomercial and it wasn't about to sacrifice it because of one player's unrelated naivete, so it sat on the story until after the game. I think the school and/or Te'o planned to admit the whole charade eventually, but Deadspin beat them to it.
I think Notre Dame fans believe Te'o's story for the same reason Swarbrick believes it: Because this is their school, and Te'o is their star, and because people believe what they want to believe. Listen to a song's lyrics with the expectation of hearing a certain line, and that's exactly what you'll hear. Maybe that's even what the song says. Maybe not. It doesn't matter -- we hear what we want to hear.
I think this Heisman story about Te'o,who received the voter's first-place vote because the voter judged Te'o to be "a saint," is pathetic. But I thought it was pathetic when it was published Dec. 7.
I think this Te'o story says as much about the person who wrote it as it says about Te'o.
Along those lines, I think too many sportswriters have written too many unforgiving things about too many schools and athletes to turn around and accept this story, about this school (Notre Dame) and this athlete (Manti Te'o), on face value. Te'o's rush to accept Lennay Kekua as a real person was absurd. The media's rush to accept Te'o's self-serving version is absurd.
Notre Dame fans' rush to accept it? That's not absurd.
That was always a given.