The claim from former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o that he was the victim of a hoax involving a fake girlfriend will be scrutinized aggressively by the media and, presumably, his prospective NFL employers. Based on comments from Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick on Wednesday evening, it appears that Notre Dame already has done so.
Swarbrick explained that Te’o first realized that the existence and death of Lennay Kekua was a hoax when he received a call while attending a postseason awards show in Orlando from the woman who claimed to be Kekua, from the phone number that was supposedly hers. On December 26, Te’o shared the information with Notre Dame, and Swarbrick had multiple meetings with Te’o to review the details of the relationship.
Notre Dame engaged a private company to investigate the situation, with a report provided to the school on January 4. The investigation found, among other things, “online chatter among the perpetrators.”
Swarbrick said Te’o had planned to disclose the situation next week, and that Te’o is expected to address the situation with the media on Thursday. For now, Swarbrick declined to delve into many of the details. “At the end of the day this is Manti’s story to tell, and we believe he has the right to tell it, which we believe he is going to do,” Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick explained that it appeared to be a classic example of the phenomenon known as catfishing. “An initial casual engagement,” Swarbrick said. “A developing relationship online. A subsequent trauma — traffic accident, illness. And then a death.”
The biggest question remains the multiple accounts that Te’o and the fictitious girlfriend had met in person and spent time together. “They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o, Manti’s father, told the South Bend Tribune in 2012. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.
Swarbrick explained twice that Manti Te’o used the term “met” to refer to when they first met online, but Swarbrick did not provide a detailed explanation regarding the seemingly critical question of whether Te’o ever said or claimed that they actually physically spent time together, at their first “meeting” or at any time after that.
Regardless, Swarbrick says he firmly believes that Te’o was the victim.
“I want to stress . . . that nothing about what i have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota,” Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick candidly admitted that he doesn’t know whether the situation affected the Heisman runner-up’s performance in the BCS title game loss to the Alabama.
“It’s impacted Manti as a person, significantly,” Swarbick said, before pausing to compose himself. “The single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way for the rest of his life.”