At the Tuiasosopo house in Palmdale, Calif., the family did not answer the door Saturday. Cars remained parked outside and members of the media trickled in and out all afternoon, as a small pile of business cards and letters sat untouched on the front stoop of the two-story home.
Whether Tuiasosopo ultimately confirms Te’o’s version of the story will go a long way toward determining where this saga is headed.
“I hope he learns,” Te’o said. “I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough.”
Te’o was the emotional leader and best player on a Notre Dame team that went from unranked to playing for the program’s first national championship since 1988. And Te’o’s tale of inspired play while dealing with a double-dose of tragedy became the theme of the Irish’s unexpected rise and undefeated regular season.
Not until Te’o and the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS championship did the good times end. The Crimson Tide won in a 42-14 rout on Jan. 7, the hoax was then exposed and suddenly the dream season was tarnished.
So far no law enforcement agencies have indicated they are pursuing a criminal case in the scam, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a news conference earlier this week said the university was going to leave it up to Te’o and his family to pursue legal action.
Bennett Kelly, founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said a criminal case of fraud against the perpetrators probably wouldn’t work because it appears they took nothing of value (money or other items) from Te’o. The player said at one point the fake girlfriend asked for his checking account number but he declined.
A civil suit would be difficult as well, Kelley said.
“It’s not as easy as it’s often portrayed,” Kelley said. “The context has to be outrageous. There usually has to be some kind of physical manifestation. It can’t just be that it was a bummer.”
Swarbrick said from the start that it didn’t seem as if laws were broken or NCAA rules violated. He had publicly encouraged Te’o to give his side of the story.
“Manti put this to rest for me and the University long ago,” Swarbrick said in a text message to the AP on Saturday. “I am just glad that everyone (at least everyone open to the facts) now knows what we have long known — that a great young man was the innocent victim of a very cruel hoax.”
While fans and the members of the media might not be satisfied with where Te’o has left it, he won’t necessarily be compelled to answer to them — just to potential employers starting in February.
At the NFL combine, Te’o will have his physical skills and fitness tested, and he will be interviewed by NFL executives and coaches. He has been projected as a potential first-round draft pick. If his involvement in this hoax sets off red flags for teams and it causes him to slip in April’s draft, it could cost him millions of dollars.
Said former Dallas Cowboys general manager and NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt: “Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there’ll be a lot of people investigating just what took place.