Manti Te’o Girlfriend Hoax: Was He A Victim or Perpetrator?
At a time when the sports world couldn’t seem to be rocked any harder following cyclist Lance Armstrong’s admission about using performance-enhancing drugs during his seven consecutive Tour de France victories, the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend actually being a giant hoax happened.
This has got to be the most bizarre, mind-boggling week in the world of sports.
Wednesday, Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of Deadspin.com released their investigative story regarding Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and how her presumed death in September in a California hospital after a car accident and battle with leukemia was just a giant hoax.
There was no death. There was no battle with leukemia. There was no car accident.
There was no Lennay Kekua.
Apparently, according to the Deadspin.com article, Te’o never actually met Kekua, despite reports of the two actually being together face-to-face. Te’o admitted in a statement Wednesday night following the release of the Deadspin.com article, “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.”
So, Te’o had this relationship with Kekua online and over the phone without ever actually meeting her or even seeing her via video chat online.
But what about the picture of Kekua that various media outlets used?
Well, Burke and Dickey write in their article that a woman in California contacted them saying that the picture, “is a picture of me from my Facebook account.” After doing background research on the origin of the pictures and further talking to the woman, Burke and Dickey discovered that the woman sent a picture of herself (a picture that was not online) to an old high school classmate. The classmate apparently contacted her requesting a picture of her for a slideshow for his cousin who was in the hospital following a serious car accident (whether or not the cousin was in a car accident isn’t confirmed). The woman then told Burke and Dickey about the classmate, who was a star quarterback in high school and comes from a big football family.
That classmate, is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Burke and Dickey confirmed that there was a relationship between Te’o and Tuiasosopo, and the woman they spoke with corroborated this.
But wait, it gets weirder.
Burke and Dickey discovered that Tuiasosopo was actually in a car accident, which ironically took place about a month before Kekua was allegedly in a car accident. They also discovered, after talking with friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo, it was he who was behind Kekua.
And, Te’o wasn’t the first victim behind Tuiasosopo’s Lennay Kekua.
As Burke and Dickey say in their article, “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.”
Whoever this victim was, was obviously smarter and more suspicious of these weird actions than Te’o was. However, since there are claims that Te’o and Kekua met in 2009 and that she visited him in Hawaii, claims which have now proven to be false, this can either mean that Te’o was completely duped and lied to hide the fact that he was duped, or that he was in on the hoax.
I’m going to go with the latter, especially because of this excerpt from the Deadspin.com article:
“A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was ‘80 percent sure’ that Manti Te’o was ‘in on it,’ and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o together on Tuiasosopo’s now-deleted Instagram account.
“The sheer quantity of falsehoods about Manti’s relationship with Lennay makes that friend, and another relative of Ronaiah’s, believe Te’o had to know the truth. Mostly, though, 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.”
The friend that Burke and Dickey spoke with is absolutely correct. With these kind of facts completely destroying this fabricated story of Lennay Kekua, how could Te’o not have been in on it? He goes to Notre Dame, so he’s obviously smart. So he would have to be smart enough to eventually raise suspicion. Additionally, his entire team, and probably numerous other people he knows, also go to Notre Dame and are obviously smart. Someone, at some point, had to have talked to Te’o about this relationship and ask some sort of questions about itThese facts, as well as basic common sense, presume that Te’o had to be in on the hoax in some form.
This theory is confirmed by Bob Holtzman of ESPN during an airing of College Football Life. Via Rotoworld.com, this is what Holtzman had to say:
“I talked to a former Notre Dame teammate of Te’o's today, who told me that most players always thought that this wasn’t really Te’o's girlfriend. And that they always suspected that this didn’t really add up with the story. [The teammate] also told me that Te’o loved the attention and that even though the story may not have been what it seemed to be, that he was more than happy to play along with it.”
Well, Notre Dame is still unsure on whom to side with. On Wednesday, following the release of the Deadspin.com article, the university released this statement via Facebook, claiming that on December 26, Te’o and his family informed the university that he was the victim of a hoax.
Notre Dame says that Te’o was the victim. But was he really?
Perhaps, based on what Burke and Dickey discovered about the hoax breaking down in November, Te’o decided to come out and say he was a victim before he could be found out as the perpetrator. In his own statement, he claims he was a victim.
Again, that’s my own personal speculation on why he came forward to Notre Dame when he did, but it doesn’t seem so farfetched that it can’t be true. Additionally, from what the friend of Tuiasosopo said to Burke and Dickey about Tuiasosopo and Te’o creating Kekua “with publicity in mind,” is that Te’o played amazing throughout the season after the alleged death of his girlfriend, leading Notre Dame to an undefeated season, while winning numerous awards and being runner-up for the Heisman. Then, when Te’o told Notre Dame about him being a victim of a hoax, he lays an egg in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.
Could Te’o have played inspired throughout the regular season, like everyone says he was because of Kekua’s death, because he had to actually believe his lie about Kekua? Then, after going to Notre Dame claiming he was a victim—which could’ve been his save-face way of coming clean—he looks like a completely different player against Alabama. Because apparently, he and Notre Dame knew prior to the championship that this hoax was an issue, yet it’s now coming out to everyone else nationally.
Again, this ending is my own speculation on Te’o, but the proof is in the pudding with the Deadspin.com article, as well as this quote from an article on ESPN.com:
“When reached by ESPN.com on Wednesday night, former University of Washington and NFL quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo acknowledged that he is a cousin of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo but said he never had met or heard of Kekua.”
Finally, what is next in terms of football for this potential top-ten draft pick? Will NFL teams want him? Obviously they are going to have to interview Te’o at the combine (which he confirms he is attending) and he’s going to have to be truthful with these teams. But, if Te’o is indeed behind the hoax, can you trust him? Do you even want him if you’re a NFL team? Sometimes talent can’t overshadow dishonesty and mistrust.
There is sure to be a lot more information coming out about all this in the days and weeks to come. As bizarre and messed up as this is already, it will likely only get worse.
Michael Cellars currently attends Kent State University, where he is majoring in English with minors in writing and psychology. In addition to his studies, he serves in the Ohio Army National Guard. During his free time, he surrounds himself with as much of the NFL as possible, and writes for football websites NFL Soup and Football Nation. Michael’s favorite team is the Green Bay Packers, who he has been an avid fan for his entire life.