I Am Manti Te’o’s Mother

In praise of imaginary girlfriends.

I am sharing this story because I am Manti Te’o’s mother. Ever since the hooligans from something called Deadspin told the world that Manti’s dead girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed, everybody’s been talking about my son. They wonder if he’s a fraud. They say he’s a liar. They say it’s his fault Notre Dame laid an egg at the BCS Championship Game. But I understand my son better than anyone else, so I am speaking out here.

First of all, you should know that Lennay isn’t Manti’s first imaginary friend. Manti has always had imaginary friends, from the time he was a very little boy. His first imaginary friend was a rabbit named Heisman. Heisman lasted for a few years. Then he was replaced by an old man and a young man. Their names were Gipper and Rudy. The old one creeped me out a little when Manti talked to him, but I liked Rudy. He seemed to have a lot of moxie. At least for an imaginary friend. In the fourth grade, Manti had his first imaginary girlfriend. Her name was Britney. He liked her so much that sometimes he’d ask me to set a place for her at supper. He’d say, “Would you like some macaroni salad, Britney?” Sometimes he’d put some on her plate and then sneak bites when he thought I didn’t see.

What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that Manti is a Mormon, and Mormons are very familiar with the concept of imaginary friends. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, had many, many such friends, including an angel named Moroni. He had to have been imaginary, because who would name an angel Moroni? (Smith also named a city “Nauvoo.” He was terrible with names.) Also, John the Baptist visited Smith. Not to mention God.

But let’s get back to Lennay. I thought she was a very nice girl. She understood about boundaries. My Manti has been very busy this year. Notre Dame is not like other schools, you know. Notre Dame happens to have the highest graduation rate for football players of any FBS college. It’s not like Oklahoma or USC. Manti has to go to his classes. And you know how real girlfriends are, with the insecurity and all the drama. Like, “Oh Manti, you think that Kim Kardashian is hotter than I am, don’t you? It’s all right; I don’t mind. You can admit it.” Something like that can waste a whole afternoon once a girl gets going. And besides his classes, Manti has to get to the gym.

Also? And since I am Manti’s mom, I’m female, so I’m allowed to say this. Some real girlfriends are real trouble. If you try to break up with them, they’ll say you raped them. It happens. An imaginary girlfriend will never do that. Well, I guess she could. But why on earth would she? You’re the one imagining her. Not to mention the ones who “forget” to take the Pill and get pregnant. And think of all the money Manti saved with not buying Lennay jewelry and flashy clothes and vodka that costs $100 a bottle! Not that he drinks, because he’s Mormon. I’m not sure she was. I would hope he would have a Mormon imaginary girlfriend. But she’s his imaginary girlfriend, not mine.

There are probably people out there who think it’s time for Manti to put away childish things like imaginary friends and get a real girlfriend. But what if he did, and that real girlfriend got in a bad car accident and then died of leukemia? He would have to go to that girlfriend’s funeral, even if she had told him not to, told him to keep on playing football. He would have to go even though one of his earlier imaginary friends was named the Gipper. Wouldn’t he? Yes he would. I’m proud of Manti and all he’s done, and I’m grateful to Lennay for being imaginary so she didn’t take up too much of his time and energy, so he could become the most decorated defensive player in college football history and wind up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You losers at Deadspin are just jealous, because Manti is so talented and you are all a bunch of wannabes, as we say in the islands. As for the rest of you, I think you should all just mind your own business until after the NFL draft.