Is Te’o Gay? Does it Matter?

Jamie Reidy, a 1992 Notre Dame graduate, explores a new theory being put forward about the duped All-American.

Full disclosure: I am a diehard Irish fan. I just got back from Miami, where I watched my alma mater’s beloved team get clobbered. In that game, our star player played far below his usual super human level. Now, obviously, we know that Manti Te’o had a lot more than Alabama’s running backs on his mind.

The public is discussing three main theories for his “Catfish” scandal: a) he was duped, or b) he was in on it from the start, or c) he was duped and then it got embarrassing, so he went along for the ride because, “Hey, who gets hurt by some white lies about a dead girl?”

Here’s a fourth possible reason: Manti has a secret.

I have no inside information. I have no idea if he has a secret or not. I’m simply brainstorming. I don’t even know what the secret may be. Perhaps he is  gay, as is being discussed by a few people, including Bill Simmons. I don’t want to presume that, but we should at least consider it as an option when talking about the life this kid has led in a few different conservative cultures.

Consider the plight of a 22-year old devout Mormon who knows he’s gay. Acting on homosexual feelings is considered a sin, according to church doctrine.

Consider the plight of a 22-year old Hawaiian who knows he’s gay. I specify “Hawaiian,” because traditionally, manliness reigns supreme in the Warrior and Samoan cultures. Coming out in any culture must be difficult, and I assume that culture is no exception.

Consider the plight of a 22-year old middle linebacker who knows he’s gay. He mans the most macho position in America’s most macho sport! There’s a reason no NFL player has ever come out while still playing in the league: fear of being outcast in the locker room.

Manti Te’o is all three of those things: a Mormon, Hawaiian middle linebacker.

Again, I know nothing about Teo’s sexuality. But isn’t it at least plausible that he and Ronaiah Tuisosopo, the man alleged to have run the hoax, are gay lovers who created this “girlfriend” as an e-beard?

Interestingly, coming out as a gay man is the only way Te’o can prove a) he’s not a gullible moron and b) isn’t a scumbag who invented a dead girlfriend for publicity. Instead, he’ll reveal himself to be an understandably frightened young man who lied to cover up a truth about himself. A truth, that in his life, could potentially end life as he knows it?

Such an admission would hurt him in some red states and I’d guess, sadly, in the NFL draft. Is professional football ready for a first-round draft choice who openly prefers “Playgirl” to “Playboy”? I’m afraid to say that it might not be. It would make for fascinating drama on ESPN’s coverage of the draft on the night of Thursday April 25th. Talk about Must See TV.

On top of that, it will undoubtedly hurt his legacy among older Notre Dame graduates; Catholicism can give Mormonism a run for its money when it comes to accepting the LGBT community.

What a moment this could be for America: having to accept a gridiron god as gay.

We also have to take a minute and think about what are the consequences of people alleging he is gay, without any knowledge or evidence to this fact. How could this affect his life? His career? Is it okay to even be discussing this?

What do you think? Is Te’o’s sexuality off-limits, or are we helping move the conversation about sexuality in pro sports forward when we make guesses like this?



Photo: Winslow Townsend/AP

About Jamie Reidy

Jamie Reidy is a former U.S. Army officer turned little blue pill pusher turned author. His first book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of A Viagra Salesman"
served as the basis for the movie "Love and Other Drugs" starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Jamie is currently writing his new book, "Game On: One Fanatic's Fantastic, Foolish and Futile Attempt to Attend 365 Sporting Events in 365 Days." He discovered his latest story featured on Good Men Project - "Hope Shoots and Scores" - on Day 39 of his crazy journey.


  1. Steve Savickas says:

    Te’o already admitted continuing his untruthfulness even after he claims he learned of the alleged hoax. Therefore, he acted in furtherance of the hoax. He cannot be trusted.
    Remember, Te’o engaged in a nationally televised sob story. He kept it up to the embarrassment of his family, his teammates, and the university.
    He and former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington share a trait. Let’s face it. They are both gay.

  2. Jamie Reidy says:

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to make comments.

    Miranda, you bring up a lot of good points. No one has ever called me puerile! I guess the big question is “what took so long?”

    I apologize for my lazy use of “Hawaiian” instead of “Samoan.” I have been to Hawaii 35 times (mostly for work) and definitely got a sense of the warrior culture. However, I also served in the Army with several Samoan men who were uber-macho. So, perhaps I let those experiences color my views going forward.

    I agree with you that someone’s being gay does not affect his ability to play middle linebacker. But I don’t think NFL GMs, coaches and players would agree. Hopefully, an all-star player will come out and then show the lunkheads that sexuality doesn’t matter, much in the same way that the repeal of DADT has helped the military.

  3. This has to be one of the least socially-responsible articles I’ve read in this young 2013. And with it being 2013, you’d think that we’ve progressed towards not being concerned about someone’s sexuality, much less speculating someone is gay without any concrete evidence to back the speculation. This is pure sensationalism, and a rather disappointing attempt at passing off entertainment as journalism. There are other issues that I see here.

    First, I presume that you are speaking of “Hawaiian,” “Samoan,” and “Warrior” cultures based on what you see in the media and from a few trips to different islands in the Pacific. Manliness reigns supreme? No. In Samoan culture (by the way, Te’o is Samoan, born and raised in Hawaii. He is not Hawaiian, and Hawaiian/Samoan should not be used interchangeably), the fa’afafine is widely recognized as the third gender. If families have nothing but sons, it’s accepted for a son to cross-dress or become a transexual/transvestite and assume traditional female roles and tasks (i.e. housecleaning, raising children, laundry). Samoans value the fa’afafine, and will staunchly defend them should a homophobic individual harass or ridicule them.

    In Native Hawaiian culture, there is a third gender known as the mahu. It’s very much the same as Samoa’s fa’afafine, as all of Polynesian islands are similar in social and political structures prior to Western contact.

    However, in today’s Hawaii, the mahu has lost some respect due to Hawaiians’ efforts in assimilating to the dominant American culture. Specifically on the island of Oahu, where the US military has a large presence and is the source of a majority of the state’s Black population, males in Hawaii are exposed to (and I hate to use an overly-generalizing term here) “hip-hop” culture, that has its Black roots. These days,hip-hop has evolved into a force that encourages posturing of hypersexuality and hypermasculiinity, ultimately resulting in this younger generation of Hawaiians (Native and non-) marginalizing the mahu that was once cherished in Hawaiian culture.

    Second, I’ll answer your question if making guesses like this moves forward the conversation of sexuality in sports: NO. If anything, your supporting thoughts takes society back in the acceptance and embracing of the LGBT community to not be the “others,” but to just simply be part of “everyone.” Discussing sexuality should not be off limits, but discussing an individual’s sexuality (Te’o’s) should be. An individual’s sexuality has no bearing on his ability to perform in a job, whether it’s in graphic design (which is his major), or as an NFL middle linebacker. If anything, homophobes are probably the ones who cannot perform their job because of fear–fear that is stoked by archaic ideologies that your article perpetuates (Playgirl vs. Playboy? Delightfully puerile).

    Finally, this exemplifies America’s problem with putting athletes on a pedestal. Gridiron god? Because a small group of people are beginning to speculate that their “gridiron god” may be homosexual, sports fans are on the edges of their collective seats, concerned that the world as they know it (e.g. hey, you gotta be straight to survive in sports!) could come to a screeching halt. I’m amazed that there is more paranoia and buzz over this “world” coming to an end when there is no solid evidence to support this paranoia. Does it sound similar to the Mayans’ 2012 paranoia? We “survived” the whole 2012 ordeal and made it into 2013, but it seems like we’ll slow our own progress with self-manifested fears and spending immeasurable resources on trying to stop forces beyond our control.

  4. John Anderson says:

    I think it matters to the LGBT community if he’s gay.. It breaks down gender stereotypes, but I don’t think it matters to the NFL as much as people think. There are openly gay people at my job. There were openly gay people at the school I went to. That might be why they have these huge dividers between the urinals, but nobody had an issue with it in the bathroom as far as I know.

    What are you going to do challenge the masculinity of someone who just crushed you? There are female reporters in the locker room (which I don’t think is right). I don’t see how anyone can be more embarrassed being naked in front of someone with the same junk. That being said. I think there are limits to what the public has the right to know about public figures. I believe his sexuality is off limits since it doesn’t have anything to do with his playing football.

  5. Nothingwrong says:

    It’s definitely not off-limits. It’s definitely not an offensive theory, either. Are people really to believe in the course of NFL history, there haven’t been non-straight players? That’s along the line of thinking where people believe in the entire universe, Earth is the only planet harboring life.

    Religious beliefs aside.

  6. You “don’t want to presume” that Te’o might be gay? I certainly understand not wanting to define another person’s sexual orientation for them, but I’m not comfortable with this expression used here as it implies there’s something wrong with being gay and that gay people are in some way inferior to straight people. Wish this sentence had been phrased just a little bit more sensitively/accurately.

    • Well, I think presuming he’s gay would be different than presuming his sexual orientation in this case, because the orientation he’s putting forward is of being straight. If he weren’t saying anything then you would frame it neural, and that would be right. But here, I think Jamie’s right that the people who are posing the idea that he may be gay are presuming something other than what he is stating publicly.

  7. “manliness reigns supreme in the Warrior and Samoan cultures”

    I am seeing this sort of generalization repeated a lot, and it wasn’t my impression of Pacific Island cultures. So I’ve been researching it. It seems from what I’m reading, in the larger spectrum, Samoa is rather more relaxed about homosexuality than many cultures (maybe even big swaths of the USA).

    In fact, Samoa has a rather unique history of accepting as ordinary people of androgynous sex, like Native Americans were accepting of “two spirit” people. Much homophobia in America stems from people’s rigid attitudes toward gender roles.

    I can’t help wondering if people are presuming that Samoa is a homophobic culture in a sort of condescending way that we presume that gay people only have it good in America and Europe. (Or worse, all people of color dislike gays.)

    Otherwise, Te’o is certainly surrounded by a hostile culture of Mormonism, Catholicism and machismo, which if he was gay, would be a powerful incentive to go to extremes to hide it. Lots of gays could tell stories of the imaginary friends they created to stop probing and uncomfortable questions.

    Does it matter? It matters to his mental health to find a way to make peace with it.

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