One persistent but entirely unsubstantiated rumor running through the whole Manti Te’o fake dead girlfriend saga is that the hoax was concocted to cover up Te’o being gay. As reports piled up that indeed Te’o was at the very least not aware of the scan at the beginning, this seemed more and more unlikely, but the rumor (perhaps aided by wishful thinking from the scandal rubberneckers among us, because how big a story would THAT be?) lived on.
It lived on enough, in fact, that it even got a mention during Katie Couric’s much-hyped interview with Te’o on her talk show today. Apparently the rumor gained enough prominence that Couric felt it worthy of a response from Te’o one way or another. So she asked him, point blank, if he’s gay. And this is how he responded:
This little segment reminded me of something Bill Simmons talked about a while back when he wrote about Magic Johnson – how when Magic first revealed he had HIV, there was much speculation about his sexual orientation, so he made the talk show rounds, seemingly to convince people he wasn’t gay more than anything else.
Well, this wasn’t that bad, but it definitely felt off. There’s an argument to be made that even the question getting asked in the first place was too much, but things really went off the rails with the response. It couldn’t just be a simple “No” – it had to be “Far from it. Faaaaaar from that,” with audience laughter and the camera panning to a fetching young lass in the audience for good measure. This guy, this strapping, footballing lad? Gay?! Impossible! Why, he’d plow every girl in this audience! the camera seemed to say. And Te’o couldn’t just be not-gay, he had to be totally-super-ultra-not-gay because imagine how terrible a thing that would be, if we all thought he was into guys.
And I don’t want to dump too much on Te’o – he’s the one who had the unsubstantiated rumor spread about him in the first place. But the answer he gave is the kind of thing that fuels more unfounded speculation, and the cut to the laughing audience was surpassed in dog-and-pony-ness only by the cut to an audience member actually crying later on. Theoretically, the chance to respond to what has been a point of speculation was legit, but the way it was executed, by both the telecast and interviewee, left a lot to be desired.Then again, if we’re looking to daytime TV for journalistic fulfillment (not to mention posting a clip on our site), then I guess the joke isn’t really on them.