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Manti Te’o had one of the greatest seasons of any middle linebacker in college football history. He led the best defense in the country to the BCS National Championship game with many memorable wins along the way. It’s safe to say, however, that anyone who would interview him now wouldn’t be interested in talking about his stellar season.
When Deadspin.com reported on Wednesday that Manti Te’o’s girlfriend (who had supposedly died earlier this season) had not died and in fact never existed, the sports world exploded. Even folks on Twitter, where the statute of limitations for any story is maybe a few hours, are still buzzing about it some 48 hours later.
It has been, by far, the most bizarre story I have ever followed.
In the coming days and weeks ahead we will find more information regarding this ordeal. We already know a ton. But in a way we really don’t know much. That should really give you a sense of the magnitude and far reaching impact of it.
In the initial report by Deadspin.com, it was clear that Manti Te’o was being portrayed as a complicit partner in the hoax, ran by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who was a known acquaintance (at the very least) of Manti. The article quoted a source as saying, that they were “80 percent sure” Manti Te’o was “in on it”. The source also went on to say they made it up in order for Manti to benefit from the publicity.
After that article was published, Notre Dame quickly released a statement in response to it saying that they had known about the “hoax” since December 26th. In a press conference later that evening, Notre Dame athletic director, Jack Swarbick maintained that Te’o had maintained and exclusively online relationship with the fake Lennay Kekua, had been duped throughout the entire process, and did not become aware of the hoax until he received a phone call on December 6th from what was believed to be Kekua’s number with a familiar voice on the other end. When asked about specific matters of the situation, Swarbick repeatedly said he would let Manti answer those questions “soon”.
If Notre Dame’s history tells you anything, it’s that you shouldn’t take their word as gospel. They have a history of embellishments and cover ups; whether it’s a coach faking that his son has cancer so his team will win or covering up rapes involving football players or covering up a fake girlfriend so it doesn’t distract their team or start player from playing in the National Championship. Yeah, that worked out well…
At this point, one thing is for certain: Manti Te’o is a liar. To what extent and for what purpose, we still do not know.
We know Manti Te’o lied about ever meeting her. The South Bend Tribune: “Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.” This was in regards to their first meeting after the Stanford/Notre Dame game in November of 2009. It was confirmed by Te’o.
We know Brian Te’o, Manti’s father, lied about the two hanging out in Hawaii from 2010-2011. He was quoted as saying, “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there.”
We don’t know, however, if Manti Te’o was involved in the hoax from the beginning, whether he knew part of the way through, or whether he never knew at all.
According to ESPN, Manti Te’o and Kekua began to talk nightly in early 2012 until Kekua was in a serious car crash in April of 2012. Doctors then discovered that the fake girl had cancer and treated her. She then starts to get better throughout the summer and is eventually released from the hospital on September 10th, 2012 according the South Bend Tribune.
This is where the story starts to get weird (as if it wasn’t already). On September 10-11th Manti Te’o’s real grandmother dies after a long illness. What is weird is that his girlfriend dies within this same timespan even after she was released from the hospital after her condition improved. Multiple media outlets reported that she had died on five different dates.
I think it’s kind of a coincidence that the hoaxers knew that Manti’s grandmother had died and conveniently killed off Kekua right after…or before…what was it? Or could it have been that Manti decided with Ronaiah to kill off Kekua in the midst of his grandmother’s passing in order to magnify the situation?
Te’o then goes out the same week and has a great game against Michigan State in both their honors.
There is no doubt that this whole saga raises hundreds of questions.
Why lie about meeting her multiple times? Why did he never visit her, in the summer while there was no school and he was presumably free, while she had been in the hospital after a “serious” car accident and while she was fighting leukemia? Finally, why did he never visit her grave or her family after she had died? If she was truly “love of his life” as he said, these are surely things he should’ve felt compelled to do.
Earlier today Shelley Smith of ESPN reported a story in which she quotes two people who claim that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo pulled a similar hoax on their cousin a few years ago. “I found out his (Manti Te’o) girlfriend’s name was Lennay Kekua. And right when I read the name Lennay Kekua, I immediately thought of Ronaiah. Then I thought of my cousin — that this has to be the same person” said one of them. Smith then quoted anonymous source who said she was friends with Ronaiah, “He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. … The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie”.
However, why should we believe ESPN, who couldn’t (with all their might) get the story out before Deadspin? Why should we believe a secondhand confession through an anonymous source from a compulsive liar? The only person who could have performed this elaborate hoax, which Ronaiah has “confessed” doing, would have to be a compulsive liar. I’m sorry, but I’m going to need more than that to believe Manti or Notre Dame on this one.
We know Manti was friends with Ronaiah and we know Ronaiah was probably behind the fake girl. But why would he attempt to fool his friend? Jack Swarbick believed it was to humiliate Manti. But wouldn’t the best way to humiliate him be to use the Twitter account that was created for Kekua as a way to publicize it? Calling him on the phone hardly seems like humiliation since only Manti would know about it.
In the past two days teammates have been quoted as saying that they had suspicions about Te’o’s mystery girlfriend. One in particular said “He lied, but the media blew it up” and that Te’o was a “very good” actor. Then there is this video where you can see Te’o’s teammates snickering Brian Kelly brings up Manti’s struggles and as Manti speaks about his fake dead girlfriend.
Alema Te’o, Manti’s uncle, spoke with 1280 The Zone in Chicago yesterday saying, “Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a liar, he concocted the whole thing, he misrepresented whatever program that he was trying to get across to Manti, and shoot, he lied every step of the way. I don’t feel it’s beyond him to hire somebody or bring somebody in to play the role of Lennay to get Manti to buy into this deal.” He then went on to describe a situation where he walked in on Manti talking to Ronaiah. About what, he did not know.
Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN interviewed Te’o about losing the two women back in October. He said in researching for preparation that he found no obituary or record of a car accident for Lennay Kekua. “We asked Manti, could we contact Lennay’s family and he said the family would prefer not to be contacted. Could we have some photos of Lennay? He said the family would prefer not to provide those” said Wojciechowski.
Kind of suspicious, don’t you think? Considering Lennay’s family didn’t exist.
Even further evidence shows part of an interview where Manti says that his girlfriend wrote him letters before every game. He said the last one she wrote was before the Stanford game this season. Problem is, she was reported dead 31 days prior to that game.
Here we come to the part where Te’o continued to speak about his fake dead girlfriend even after he found out that she was in fact not dead, according to Notre Dame. His quotes can be seen here. Why did he continually bring her up even though he knew about the hoax? He could have easily dodged any of those questions by simply talking about how he was thankful for his teammates and coaches. He didn’t have to refer to her directly, but he did. This makes him a liar. Whether out of embarrassment or whether he was perpetuating the lie on purpose; he is a liar.
Just under three days after the news broke, Te’o finally broke his silence on the matter. In an off camera interview with his lawyer present, Te’o denied being involved in the hoax at any point and maintained his innocence throughout. He did however admit to lying to his father and the media about the extent of his relationship with the fake girl. He also said that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo confessed to him via Twitter that he was the one behind it along with two more unnamed people. However as Deadspin points out, “Schaap said he saw the messages, but we’re still not sure how such an apology would have worked. Tuiasosopo deleted his Twitter account weeks ago, and direct messages on Twitter require the recipient to follow the sender. We checked the list of Twitter users Te’o follows on Tuesday and didn’t see any sign of Ronaiah.”
But why finally do an interview late on a Friday night, off camera, and with your lawyer present if you have nothing to hide? His story still does not even mesh with that of Notre Dame’s. He says he wasn’t convinced that Kekua wasn’t real until two days ago. It’s strange though that on December 26th, he notified Notre Dame of his suspicions. Notre Dame then shared the findings of their investigation with the Te’o on January 5th. But somehow he wasn’t convinced till two days ago? I’m not going to buy that.
We may never know the whole truth about this scandal. Manti Te’o probably will never own up to concocting this plan; whether because he didn’t, or because he doesn’t want people to know he did. His family, agents, and Notre Dame will probably attempt to “leak” things out to make him seem innocent.
But one thing is for certain. I will never trust what Notre Dame or Te’o have to say again. Their history dictates probable cause.