The inspiring story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o became a lot more uplifting during the 2012 season, when it was revealed that he was playing in the wake of a pair of personal losses — his grandmother and his girlfriend had died.
But his girlfriend didn’t die. She didn’t die because she never existed.
Yes, Lennay Kekua didn’t exist. Thus, the many media accounts regarding her relationship with Te’o and her eventual passing in September 2012, were false. As were the on-the-record references to her by Te’o.
“They were with me,” Te’o told ESPN after an upset of Michigan State that came days after Te’o's grandmother died and his girlfriend actually didn’t. “I couldn’t do it without them, I couldn’t do it without the support of my family and my girlfriend’s family. I’m so grateful for all the love and the support that all the fans both from Michigan State and Notre Dame and fans around the world for just supporting me and my family and my girlfriend’s family. I miss them. I miss them. But I know that I’ll see them again one day.”
Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of Deadspinhave unearthed the hoax, exposing it via an item so detailed and compelling that the folks at Notre Dame had no choice but to promptly acknowledge that, indeed, there was no, and is no, Lennay Kekua.
Roughly an hour after the story surfaced, Notre Dame issued the following statement acknowledging that there was no, and is no, Lennay Kekua: “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.”
The Notre Dame statement creates more questions than it answers, because it paints Te’o as the victim. But how can Te’o be the victim of a false relationship that apparently involved more than online contact between Te’o and someone who never existed? Te’o and Kakua supposedly had met, she supposedly had visited him in Hawaii, and he supposedly had spent hours interacting with her and her family via phone.
Meanwhile, it’s convenient to say the least that Notre Dame became aware of the hoax the day after Christmas and said nothing about it until after the story broke.
The Deadspin item seems to imply strongly that Te’o wasn’t the victim but the instigator, possibly working with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (a member of the well-known Tuiasosopo football family) to manufacture a personal tragedy for the purposes of widespread publicity — publicity that nearly resulted in Te’o becoming the first true defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Te’o has many questions to answer regarding the situation. Regardless of whether he does so publicly, he’ll be doing so privately in the interviews and meetings that will precede the draft. Teams will want to know whether he can be trusted, and likewise what flaw possibly exists in his personality to prompt the fabrication of a girlfriend who would die during the season and draw Gipper-like attention to his football career.
“It could be ugly,” one league source with extensive knowledge of the pre-draft process told PFT.
Actually, it’s already ugly.
UPDATE 6:56 p.m. ET: Te’o has issued a statement that also paints him as the victim of a hoax.