Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was a defensive standout for the Fighting Irish this season. He led Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship game and became a Heisman Trophy candidate in the process. Along the way, Te’o's play was supposedly inspired by personal tragedy. His grandmother died in September, and his girlfriend supposedly died of leukemia the same day. Media outlets made Te’o's perseverance during a time of personal tragedy a central focus during the season. Te’o was lauded for playing so well while in mourning; he had 12 tackles in a win over Michigan State — his first game since the deaths.
Now, thanks to some incredible, mind-blowing investigative reporting by Deadspin, we’re learning that Te’o's alleged girlfriend is a hoax. She never existed. The pictures of her on her supposed Twitter account were of another woman. Te’o's family never met her. Te’o himself never even attended her funeral. Deadspin blew the lid off the story in an incredible piece that we highly recommend you read. We’ll post a summary of the story below.
Deadspin’s Timothy Burke told Doug Gottlieb on the radio that the site was tipped in an email that there was something fishy going on with Manti Te’o's girlfriend. They began investigating and they learned that the details surrounding the supposed death of his girlfriend were mismatched in many areas.
Te’o's girlfriend supposedly was named Lennay Marie Kekua. The two supposedly met after Notre Dame played Stanford in Palo Alto in 2009. Kekua supposedly was a Stanford student, and the two supposedly exchanged phone numbers after the game. The South Bend Tribune reported that Kekua would travel to Hawaii to be with Te’o when he was there.
Sometime in 2012, Kekua supposedly was in a car accident. She supposedly died of leukemia the same day his grandmother died — Sept. 12, 2012 (Te’o says he received a call from Kekua’s brother informing him of her death). Te’o's 72-year-old grandmother did, in fact, die, though the story about Kekua was fabricated.
An ESPN story shares two details that seem to suggest something was up. Te’o supposedly had been dating Kekua for at least a year, but his family never had met her. He also missed her funeral to play against Michigan. The funeral was supposedly a week and a half after her passing:
Te’o's family was originally set to meet Kekua for the first time this Saturday, and the emptiness probably will be felt in the same way it has been every day since her passing, when the couple’s ritual of falling asleep on the phone together came to a tragic end.
Kekua made Te’o promise he would not leave Notre Dame should anything happen to her, requesting only a few white roses. So he responded three days after her death by recording 12 tackles in a prime-time win at then-No. 10 Michigan State. And a week later, on the night of her funeral, he notched two interceptions and forced two more in a win over Michigan, later saying that he sent the pair of picks to her along with the roses.
That all was fishy. But Te’o's comments on the matter made it seem real.
“Somebody told me one time the hardest thing about goodbyes is that when you wake up in the morning you have to say it again, when you realize that they’re not there,” Te’o told ESPN. “So every morning when I wake up and my girlfriend’s not on the phone, it reminds me that she’s gone, and that’s the hardest part for me. I go through it every day.”
Media outlets, like CBS, ran a photo of Kekua along with a quote from her, as supposedly related by Te’o:
It turns out that the photo being used for the Lennay Kekua Twitter account was really a photo of another woman, who was not identified by Deadspin. Deadspin says the woman was contacted by an old high school friend who had an odd request for her to take a picture of herself holding a sign that said “MSMK.” MSMK were the letters used on the Kekua Twitter account, so the request was a setup to use her picture on the fabricated Twitter account.
Deadspin, and the woman whose picture was falsely used, trace the origins of the Lennay Kekua Twitter account back to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is a family friend of Te’o. Tuiasosopo comes from a great football family and is cousins with former Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, and former offensive lineman Manu Tuiasosopo. They are confident Ronaiah is behind the Twitter account and that the story and identity of Kekua is all a hoax. Their only question is how much did Manti know about it.
Notre Dame issued a statement in response to the explosive story on Wednesday afternoon.
“On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.”
It seems like a certainty that Kekua is fake, but it’s hard to go along with Notre Dame, which is trying to convince us that Te’o is a victim in all this.
Here is Te’o's statement on the matter:
“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.”
Te’o is claiming that he is a victim of a hoax, but I still have a few questions I’d like to have answered.
- - Who was the woman he supposedly met in 2009 after the Notre Dame-Stanford game?
- Who traveled to Hawaii with him on those trips his father says they made together? (source: South Bend Tribune)
- Where did Te’o send the white flowers that he says Kekua wanted if she died?
The answers to these questions will help us determine the extent of knowledge Te’o had about the hoax. Based on everything that has been presented, we are skeptical that Te’o was a victim.
During an October interview with Jim Rome, Te’o described his girlfriend.
“I can’t describe her. She’s my best friend whom I fell in love. We slept every night on the phone together because of her leukemia. Going through chemo, she couldn’t sleep. Doctors were saying to give her all these painkillers but yet she still couldn’t sleep. She just said if I call my boyfriend and I can sleep. In order for her to sleep, we spoke each night and said a prayer each morning and each night. That’s the type of relationship we had — we would joke around, we always put god first, and made sure that we were taking care of our families. It was perfect.
“Although she’s gone, I still say my prayers as if she’s still here. Still talk to her as if she’s still here. She’ll always be with me.”
The linebacker’s NFL draft stock already fell after the national championship game. It will be interesting to see what happens to him in light of this story.Google+