Editor’s Note: The Netflix documentary about Manti Te’o is rated TV-MA for mature audiences. LDS Living also recognizes that Ronaiah now identifies as female and that subjects interviewed for the documentary were unaware of her transition.
In 2012, Manti Te’o was on top of the world. His senior season playing football for Notre Dame brought more success than he could’ve ever imagined. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist, his team was headed to the national championship game, and the eyes of the entire nation were glued to him. But it wasn’t just football that had captured people’s attention. Manti’s story both on and off the field became the headline as Manti shared with the public that his grandmother and girlfriend had passed away on the same day early in that senior season. The story and the way Manti powerfully played through tragedy inspired people around the world … until the news broke just before the national championship game that Manti’s deceased girlfriend didn’t exist.
In the immediate aftermath, many speculated that Manti was actually in on the hoax the entire time—that Manti somehow made up the story to grab the media’s attention, and we had all fallen for it—hook, line, and sinker. Manti himself didn’t say much in the moment, but in a recent Netflix documentary series, Untold, he finally tells his side of the story. A victim of catfishing, Manti Te’o’s football career was never really the same after it became apparent that the girl he had fallen in love with—the woman he had been communicating with for years—never actually existed.
Manti, who discusses the influence of his Latter-day Saint faith throughout the documentary, was left to pick up the pieces, and nearly nine years later, he took the opportunity to publicly forgive his perpetrator as the concluding statement of the documentary.
“I want everybody to know that if Ronaiah ever watched this that I forgive him and I hope and pray that him and his family’s cool because that’s all that I can wish for them,” Manti says.
Journalists of all kinds took to social media to express their remorse for the role the media played by speculating and tearing Manti down.
Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde said, “Just watched the documentary,” Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde tweeted on Aug. 20. “Manti Te’o was the victim of a terrible hoax and still paid the biggest price for it. Not a great chapter in American media (or social media) annals.”
ESPN’s Gary Striewski wrote, "Manti Te’o got a raw deal. I’m embarrassed to be part of the big media machine that made him the punchline. He was speaking from his soul at the end of that doc you could feel the pain. Very glad he got his side out, wish it was sooner. He’s got a fan in me for life."
One of Manti’s former coaches, Brian Polian, wrote on Twitter, "Manti Te’o changed my life, and in turn, the lives of my family. We watched the documentary last night and it was difficult to relive the suffering of someone you care for. In the end, his character and his grace are on full display for all to witness. He’s an inspiration."
The documentary has captured the attention of public figures from Lebron James to Kim Kardashian.
On Sunday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared Manti’s words as they relate to faith: “There’s this term called the ‘refiner’s fire,’ and life seems to continually be that for everyone. When I go through difficult times and trials, I smile because I understand what that fire is and that Heavenly Father is molding me right now. He allows the heat to increase so that I can be shaped into whom I need to become. I learned that I needed to trust God, continue doing the best I could, and allow Him to carry me. I started to see how I could be an instrument in His hands to do the things He needed me to do. I don’t know why things happen. But I must have faith. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but I need to be patient.”
Manti also explained how he reached a place of offering forgiveness, both to his perpetrator and to himself:
“I’ve learned that to regain a level of peace, I have to let things go. A lot of us are carrying around burdens in the form of anger and revenge which at times can lead us to a dark place. I was feeling this and was desperate to find peace. … I knew that as a follower of Christ, I needed to forgive others. If He could, then I could. Second, how many times do I get on my knees to ask the Lord’s forgiveness? How would I feel if He asked me, ‘Did you forgive others after all the times I forgave you?’”
Finally, Manti, who is now a husband and father, testified of the peace that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“One of the names the Savior is known as is the Prince of Peace. I have been blessed in having reached what many would consider the top. I have seen and experienced many of the material things that the world has to offer. But I can say that none of those things gave me the peace that came with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The documentary was the No. 2 most-watched movie on Netflix for much of the week following its release.