The tale of Manti Te'o playing through a heavy heart over the passing of his girlfriend during the season has been turned upside down by a baffling, bombshell story from Deadspin.
The story of Lennay Kekua's death in September after a battle with leukemia, just after Te'o's grandmother died, and how the Notre Dame linebacker played through the heartbreak just a few days later against Michigan State became one of the biggest college football stories of the season. It's one of the reasons Te'o, a Heisman Trophy finalist who led Notre Dame to an undefeated season, became a huge star during the fall of 2012.
Deadspin says it's all a hoax. The story says that Lennay Kekua is entirely made up. The pictures of her are another woman's Facebook pictures, a woman who has never met Te'o. Deadspin said it could not find any online evidence Kekua existed, outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts. Even though Kekua was said to be a student at Stanford, the university has no record of her, Deadspin discovered. The Deadspin story tells us the entire thing with Te'o and his deceased girlfriend -- which was played up during the season to mythical proportions, including on a cover story in Sports Illustrated -- never happened.
Te'o, through a statement by Notre Dame, said he was the victim of this hoax.
This was the statement from Notre Dame's Facebook page:
Notre Dame Statement: Manti Te’o
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.
University Spokesman | Assistant Vice President
If this was a hoax and Te'o was a victim, it was elaborate and he apparently fell hook, line and sinker for it.
Here's an example of Te'o's comments about Lennay Kekua during the season, from the Tulsa World:
"My girlfriend's service was the day of Michigan's game," he said recently. "I knew when they were going to close the casket and all of that stuff, and it was during walk-through. I remember I asked Coach (Bob) Diaco, 'Coach what time is it?' And he said, 'It's 12:01.'
"That would be 9:01 California time and nine o'clock is when they closed the casket for my girlfriend. So I had a moment then."
The circumstances of how Te'o might have been taken by this hoax are still a bit confusing. The relationship apparently began on Twitter, according to Deadspin. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a classmate of the woman whose Facebook photos were passed off as Kekua, knew Te'o, and was said in the Deadspin story to have "created" Kekua. The Deadspin story doesn't explain, for example, how Te'o believed he was talking to Kekua every night until they fell asleep on the phone, as was told in an ESPN.com story. Sports Illustrated had a similar tidbit in its cover story.
This is without question one of the strangest stories in a long time and will take a long time to sort out.
UPDATE: Here is Te'o's statement, that was first published by ESPN.com:
"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."
Manti Te'o 2012 Season Highlights:
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More Manti Te'o hoax coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Too early to know hoax's impact on Manti Te'o's NFL draft stock
• Sources: Manti Te'o's team passed on chance to control the story
• NFL player on Manti Te'o girlfriend: 'No, she's real'