Manti Te’o's off-camera interview leaves more questions than answers

Graham Watson

Manti Te’o’s attempt to clear up the story involving him, a woman he thought was his girlfriend and a hoax that’s been going on since his sophomore year, did not result in the closure for which he hoped.

After ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap delivered a piecemeal account of a 2 1/2-hour interview that wasn’t allowed to be taped and involved limited audio, those listening to Schaap retell Te’o’s story were left with more questions than answers.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information – the tidbit Schaap buried at the end of his first recount – was the fact that Te’o told him he thought Lenny Kekua, his supposed girlfriend, was still real until two days earlier when the Deadspin story broke. On that day, Te’o told Schaap that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man many have fingered as the mastermind behind this hoax, called Te’o and told him he had made up Kekua and that the entire relationship was fabricated. Schaap did not provide details on Tuiasosopo’s motives or any other details of the call.

"Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing," Te'o said. Asked who they are, he said: "I don't know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one."

Te’o thought Kekua was his girlfriend, but the relationship was strictly online and over the phone and he never met her in person. In April she was said to be in a car accident and while receiving treatment, doctors supposedly learned that she had leukemia. She was said to have died on Sept. 12.

Te'o said it never occurred to him to go to the hospital or to Kekua's funeral when she died.

"It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school," Te'o said.

But on Dec. 6, Te’o said he received a call from Kekua telling him that she faked her death to evade drug dealers, who were trying to harm her.

According to earlier reports, including information from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Te’o then told family members and Notre Dame that he was involved in a hoax. Swarbrick said the school hired private investigators to look into the matter and they reported their findings to Notre Dame, Te’o and his family on Jan. 5. In short, they determined that Te’o had been the victim of a hoax and the woman he had come to know as his girlfriend never actually existed.

But apparently, that wasn’t enough to sway Te’o, who continued to keep in touch with Kekua and hold on to the hope that this woman he had fallen in love with in 2011 was real.

Despite the betrayal, Te’o said he has no ill will toward Tuiasosopo, who has essentially made the Notre Dame linebacker the butt of a national joke.

"I hope he learns," Te'o said of Tuiasosopo. "I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."

It’s unfortunate that Te’o declined to do the interview on camera and that we’re hearing Te’o’s side of the story secondhand. It makes it feel disingenuous and will only fuel conspiracy theories as to how much Te’o really knew and when.

At the very least, he’s exposed himself as incredibly trusting and wildly gullible. Not only did he fall for this hoax for three years, he allowed himself to be taken back in by the woman he believed to be deceased for months. At what point does your radar go off?

Also, why are Te’o’s and Notre Dame’s timelines so off? Did Notre Dame not know Te’o was still holding out hope Kekua was still alive? Did they not know she (or Tuiasosopo's version of her) was at the team hotel? Te’o did say he started seeing another woman after Kekua passed. While he didn’t mention her name, TMZ reported Friday that he had been seeing a woman from St. Mary’s College in South Bend.

We might never know all of the facts of this story and we probably will never hear them straight from Te’o’s mouth. He told Schaap that he hoped his speaking out (if you want to call it that) would help the story die down. Unfortunately, it will probably only fuel the public’s quest to learn more.

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