Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o speaks to the media before the BCS Championship game against Alabama earlier this month.(Photo: Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports)
By Dan Wolken and Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY Sports
Star linebacker Manti Te'o, whose relationship with a deceased
girlfriend was central to the narrative of his Heisman Trophy campaign
and Notre Dame's unbeaten regular season, was the victim of an elaborate
hoax, the school said Wednesday after a Deadspin story alleged the
woman never existed.
In a statement provided by Creative Artists
Agency, which signed him as a client last week, Te'o said he had
developed an emotional relationship a woman he had met online and was
"the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke."
According to a Notre Dame statement, Te'o and his parents informed the
school's coaching staff on Dec. 26 - nearly two weeks before the
Fighting Irish lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game -
that he had been the victim of a "sad and very cruel deception."
had talked openly during the season about his supposed relationship
with a former Stanford student named Lennay Kekua, whom he claimed in a South Bend Tribune
article to have met in 2009 after a football game. Kekua was said to
have lost her battle with leukemia on Sept. 12, just hours after Te'o
learned that his 72-year old grandmother had passed away.
story of how Te'o dealt with massive personal tragedy became front and
center in his rise to national consciousness. In interviews with Sports Illustrated
and on the Jim Rome radio show, Te'o described talking to her by phone
through the night as she dealt with the pain of chemotherapy treatments.
has to be the hardest thing that I've had to do so far; to be able to
operate, and to be able to try to continue with my daily routine, but
knowing that I just lost two women that I truly loved," Te'o said at a
news conference on Oct. 4. "That was the hardest thing. And the other
hardest thing was my girlfriend's service was the day of Michigan's
game. And I remember when I found out I knew when they were going to
close the casket and all that stuff, and it was during walk thru."
report, however, showed that there were no records of Kekua's death,
nor any records that she was a student at Stanford. According to
Deadspin, the photos on Kekua's Twitter account belonged to another
woman, who was not named.
Te'o's statement contradicted the
suggestion by Deadspin that he may have been in on the hoax along with
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Teo's who had allegedly provided the
picture of the woman.
At minimum, Te'o acknowledged Wednesday that he had never met Kekua in person.
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," Te'o said. "To realize that I was the victim of what
was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is,
painful and humiliating."
Te'o played poorly in Notre Dame's 42-14
loss to Alabama, uncharacteristically missing several tackles. He is
currently preparing for the NFL Draft but will not participate at next
week's Senior Bowl.
"We know it's a hoax... The only question out
there is exactly what Manti knew about it," Timothy Burke, one of the
authors of the piece on Deadspin, said during an appearance Wednesday on
Deadspin traces back the first national mention of Kekua to an article in the Nov. 28, 2009 edition of the South Bend Tribune.
article quotes a friend of Tuiasosopo's as saying he was "80 percent
sure" that Te'o was "in on it," and that "the two perpetrated Lennay
Kekua's death with publicity in mind."
"Mostly, though," the
articles continues, "the friend simply couldn't believe that Te'o would
be stupid enough - or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo clever enough - to sustain the
relationship for nearly a year."