Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o had an inspirational story that followed him throughout the college football season about how Te’o lost his grandmother and his girlfriend on the same day. The girlfriend was named Lennay Kekua who was a 22 year old Stanford student that Te’o met in 2009 following a Stanford-Notre Dame game. Supposedly Kekua had been in a serious car accident and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. Te’o went on to have a breakout game after learning of the two deaths, leading the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State and racking up 12 tackles.
Well, Deadspin decided to do some digging and it turns out, this girlfriend didn’t exist. No record of her car accident, of her death or of her ever being a student at Stanford. Not only had Te’o's family never met her, the photos on her Twitter account were fake and Te’o didn’t attend her funeral.
Te’o's girlfriend was like Big Shirley on Martin. Better, she was like Tommy’s job, nobody knew it existed.
Ready for the next twist to this story?
Deadspin, and the woman whose picture was used to set up the Twitter account, traced the origins of the “Lennay Kekua” Twitter account back to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Tuiasosopo is a family friend of Te’o’s.
Notre Dame released a statement about the situation and held a press conference.
“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.”
Te’o was allegedly CATFISHED! Pause, yes, “Catfish” was even referenced at the news conference, we just had a conversation about catfish and how it could be avoided. Here’s the statement Te’o released on the situation.
“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.”
Here’s the question with Te’o, was he in on it to? Te’o claimed to spend nights falling asleep on the phone with “Lennay” while she was hospitalized but he also made reference to meeting/seeing her in person. Was he involved, or a victim of a hoax like the college is saying? Did the attention he garnered after the game become addicting and he just kept feeding into it?
Even Nev, the creator of “Catfish” and a victim of one is on the case. Please let this be a one hour special!
— Nev Schulman (@NevSchulman) January 17, 2013
The biggest benefactor of this Te’o stuff, Lance Armstrong. His Oprah interview and confession will get lost in all the confusion of Te’o.
photo via Getty