Did Notre Dame college football star Manti Te’o make up a girlfriend, and kill her off—making his rise to stardom all the more inspirational? Or was it a hoax perpetrated upon him? That’s the question of the moment, thanks to a surprising investigation by Deadspin.
In what was described as a truly heartbreaking and incredible story, Te’o played two sensational games three days after the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. In the first, against Michigan State, he made 12 tackles and recovered a fumble in a 20-3 victory. And a week later, on the day of Kekua’s funeral, Te’o made two interceptions in a 13-6 victory over Michigan.
Both Te’o's relationship and mourning for the Kekua was well publicized and set Te’o out as a special candidate for the Heisman trophy.
But according to Deadspin’s exhaustive search, Kekua never existed. It was a online hoax perpetrated by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Te’o who is a former high school football star turned pastor in California. The confusion is to whether Te’o was in on it. Te’o now claims it was strictly an online relationship. But Deadspin recounts a 2012 article in which Te’o's family talks about Te’o's in-person visits with Lennay.
“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.”
And Te’0 himself says he was the victim of a cruel joke:
“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’s a jaw-dropping story of deception likely to take the heat off Lance Armstrong for a while.