According to a bombshell of a story by Deadspin’s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, Manti Te’o’s girlfriend never existed and certainly never died after a car accident and a battle with leukemia.
The incredibly detailed story says that Ronaiah Tuiasosopoa, a friend of the Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist, concocted the dead girl — Lennay Kekua — and quoted a friend of Tuiasosopoa as saying he was “80 percent sure” that Te’o was “in on it” in order to get publicity.
The story concluded:
There was no Lennay Kekua. Lennay Kekua did not meet Manti Te’o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te’o in Hawaii. Lennay Kekua was not in a car accident. Lennay Kekua did not talk to Manti Te’o every night on the telephone. She was not diagnosed with cancer, did not spend time in the hospital, did not engage in a lengthy battle with leukemia. She never had a bone marrow transplant. She was not released from the hospital on Sept. 10, nor did Brian Te’o congratulate her for this over the telephone. She did not insist that Manti Te’o play in the Michigan State or Michigan games, and did not request he send white flowers to her funeral.
Teo on Wednesday issued this statement, basically saying he only knew the women through the Internet and phone converations.
“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.
“I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.
“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
“Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.”
During a press conference Wednesday, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick referenced the movie “Catfish’” and said that the school became aware of the situation Dec. 26 when they were informed by Te’o and his parents that there was a “hoax” because Te’o had received a phonecall in early December from the woman he believed was his dead girlfriend.
Swarbrick said the school hired independent investigators to look into the case and was under the impression that the Te’os were going to release their findings next week, but the Deadspin story broke first.
“There was not an intention or belief this was a story that wouldn’t get told,” he said.
He added: “We had hoped the first person to tell (the story) would be Manti.”
Swarbrick said Te’o’s relationship with the girl “was exclusively an online relationship,” albeit a complicated one.
“The more trouble she was in, car accident, diagnosis of leukemia, the more engaged he would become,” he said.
He said Te’o never met the girl but tried to.
“Several meetings were set up and Lennay never showed,” Swarbrick said.
He said Te’o believed the girl was real.
“Every single thing about this, until that day in first week of December, was real to Manti,” he said.
Even the funeral appeared to be real, Swarbrick said.
“There was a place to send flowers,” he said. “There was no detail of the hoax left undone.”
This story — and subsequent statement — raises all kinds of questions: As Notre Dame beat writer Brian Hamilton points out, who did Te’o meet on the field and exchange numbers with at Stanford in 2009? How much did he know about this purported “hoax” and how could he not know that his “girlfriend” wasn’t a real person? How much were the parents in on it and with whom were they communicating? Did he and/or the friend concoct this story to pump up his Heisman candidacy and the general feelgood stories around him? Teo is currently No. 8 on Mel Kiper’s Big Board. How will this whole mess impact his draft status?
As for the media, oh boy are there a lot of questions. Everybody from Sports Illustrated to ESPN to the local papers bought the dead girlfriend story hook, line and sinker. Yet there are apparently no records that this girl ever lived! Man, that sure doesn’t reflect well on the local or national media, and will likely only raise more questions about the credibility of the media in this country.
One thing’s for sure, for one day at least, the Lance Armstrong story isn’t the craziest thing going on in the sports world.
Photo: LA Times