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Column: Te’o story lifts veil on online relationships

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I freely admit Manti Te’o’s story is downright unbelievable.

Still, I have held out hope the celebrated Notre Dame linebacker will have been proved to be telling the truth, that he was truly duped by a cruel hoax and that he believed his late online girlfriend/fiancée had been real although he had never seen her in person.

I believe this because I graduated from Notre Dame.

It’s been tough this past week. There are just so many offers of Manti jerseys from graduates of other schools that I can take.

I was finally driven to seek solace from another Notre Dame alum, Hutch Schumaker.

I called the semi-retired Columbus business owner to seek his reflections on the episode and how it might affect his attitudes toward his alma mater.

What I got was honesty and some insights into a generational divide that those of us in a certain age group are finding difficult to understand.

The honesty came in Hutch’s answer to my request for his opinion.

“I don’t have one,” he said in pretty simple words. “I don’t know enough about the situation to have an opinion, and I’m not passing judgment on anyone until I know the facts.”

The story is indeed weird and convoluted, but the unbelievable part of it would seem to be that a young man could carry on a long relationship with a woman he never saw in the flesh. It becomes even more convoluted when considering that he reported that she had died but he had not gone to her funeral.

The story of the girlfriend’s death (coupled with the real death of his grandmother) assumed mammoth proportions in the media. He’s a tremendous college linebacker, but that story of the double tragedy elevated him to the heights of Notre Dame legends. Think Rudy. Think the Gipper. Think the Four Horsemen.

When a big part of the story was proved to be a hoax, a lot of people took Manti from the heights to indescribable depths.

Hutch Schumaker just isn’t sure he belongs there, and he has his 13-year-old son Ab to thank for that.

“Let’s face it,” he said last week. “I don’t know Twitter from Facebook. I don’t text. I don’t know how to text. I heard about this story and I asked Ab how something like this could happen.

“He just looked at me and said that once you start communicating with someone online, it’s possible you will have absolutely no idea of who they really might be.

“The thing is that young people today are finding out how difficult it can be to trust anyone online.”

There was a touch of dismay in Hutch’s voice as he talked about what he has learned of 21st century relationships.

“Dating today is nothing like it was when you and I were a lot younger,” he said. “It’s a virtual relationship, and there have been people dating online for a year or more who never saw each other. I don’t think I would do it that way, but this is a totally different generation. I think you’ve got to look at it from that context, not from the way we were in our youth.”

Hutch called me back a few hours after that conversation and said that he had just heard a radio report in which a woman reported that a man who had known Te’o had confessed to her that he had been responsible for pulling the hoax on the football star.

There will probably be more twists to the story, but Hutch is staking out a position that makes a lot of sense and is fair, to boot.

He did offer one opinion, however.

“I just have to feel sorry for the kid.”

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