Was the story about Manti Te’o losing his girlfriend a hoax?
A new in-depth report by Deadspin.com claims that Te’o was never dating Lennay Kekua. In fact, Deadspin claims that Lennay Kekua never even existed.
In September, news broke that the Heisman Trophy nominee lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend within a span of 24 hours. After receiving the news, Te’o went on to lead Notre Dame to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State.
The sad and inspirational story spread like wildfire was picked up by major media outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times. But according to Deadspin, none of it was real.
“Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.”
So where did Lennay Kekua come from?
According to The Star, the photos of Kekau, which were posted all over the internet, are actually of a 22-year-old California woman. A woman who has never been in a car accident, doesn’t have leukemia and has never met Manti Te’o.
The hoax was allegedly created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a pastor at a church in Palmdale, California and a friend of Te’o's.
“We spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te’o wasn’t the first person to have an online ‘relationship’ with her. One mark – who had been ‘introduced’ to Lennay by Tuiasosopo – lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead. Two sources discounted Ronaiah’s stunt as a prank that only metastasized because of Te’o's rise to national celebrity this past season.”
Building a fake online profile isn’t difficult to do. What makes the Te’o girlfriend hoax story so incredible is that it fooled so many people for so long. After the Michigan game, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly awarded the game ball to Lennay, an IndieGo campaign was started to raise money in honor of Lennay and CBS ran a three minute special about Te’o's girlfriend on national television.
Te’o talked about his girlfriend several times in the media but the ND linebacker says that he was also duped by the hoax.
Te’o Releases A Statement
The hoax fooled the media, Notre Dame and apparently Te’o himself. The Notre Dame linebacker said that he was involved with a woman that he met online and never knew that Lennay Kekua was a fake person.
Te’o said that the story about her death was real to him and that the pain he felt was genuine.
“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.”
Notre Dame Releases Statement
Notre Dame also released a statement about the Te’o girlfriend hoax. The school said that it was made aware of the hoax on December 26, 2012, and that an investigation is currently underway into the hoax.
Here’s Notre Dame’s statement.
“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.”
Manti Te’o and Notre Dame both claim that the star linebacker was a victim of a hoax. Of course, others will have their doubts.
Do you think Te’o is telling the truth? Was he in an online relationship with someone claiming to be Lennay Kekau? Was he really devastated when he was told that she had been killed in a car crash?
Or was Te’o part of the hoax?
The big question here is whether Te’o was involved or not. Notre Dame is staking a loud claim that he got duped and had no involvement.
— Pete Thamel(@SIPeteThamel) January 16, 2013
What do you think? Did Manti Te’o create a story about a dead girlfriend in order to gain national attention? Or is he the victim of a sadistic hoax?