Not once but twice after he supposedly discovered his online girlfriend of three years never even existed, Notre Dame All-American linebacker...
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Not once but twice after he supposedly discovered his online girlfriend of three years never even existed, Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te’o perpetuated the heartbreaking story about her death.
An Associated Press review of news coverage found that the Heisman Trophy runner-up talked about his doomed love in a Web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10. He and the university said Wednesday that he learned on Dec. 6 that it was all a hoax, that not only wasn’t she dead, she wasn’t real.
A report on ESPN.com quoted a former teammate as saying players knew the woman wasn’t really his girlfriend even though Te’o played that up as his tragic story was being told.
Players thought Te’o had only met Lennay Kekua once and that it wasn’t really accurate to call her his girlfriend. But as condolences poured in after her death, Te’o “played along,” according to the teammate who wished to remain anonymous.
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The teammate portrayed the move as part of his personality, telling ESPN that Te’o liked attention so much he would sometimes point himself out to friends when he was on television.
On Thursday, a day after Te’o’s story was exposed as a bizarre lie, he and Notre Dame faced questions from sportswriters and fans about whether he really was duped, as he claimed, or whether he and the university were complicit in the hoax and misled the public, perhaps to improve his chances of winning the Heisman.
Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel said the case has “left everyone wondering whether this was really the case of a naive football player done wrong by friends or a fabrication that has yet to play to its conclusion.”
Gregg Doyel, national columnist for CBSSports.com, was more direct.
“Nothing about this story has been comprehensible, or logical, and that extends to what happens next,” he wrote. “I cannot comprehend Manti Te’o saying anything that could make me believe he was a victim.”
Notre Dame said Te’o found out that Kekua was not a real person through a phone call he received at an awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 6. He told Notre Dame coaches about the situation Dec. 26.
Te’o’s agent, Tom Condon, said the athlete had no plans to make any public statements Thursday in Bradenton, Fla., where he has been training with other NFL hopefuls at the IMG Academy.
Reporters were turned away at the main gate of IMG’s sprawling, secure complex. Te’o remained on the grounds, said a person familiar with situation.
The story has created uncertainty surrounding the All-American linebacker and could further hurt his draft stock, NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt said.
“I think some teams will say it isn’t worth the problem” to draft Te’o, said Brandt, who has the linebacker rated 19th overall in the first round.
The former Dallas Cowboys general manager added that Te’o’s stock had plummeted after a poor performance in the BCS championship game.
“I don’t think anybody considered him to be a top-five pick before all this happened,” Brandt said. “In that game against Alabama, this was like a guy who was the best shooter in the world in basketball and here comes a game and he can’t even hit the backboard. His play in that game was absolutely horrible. He missed on run blitzes; guys ran over him … “
Nev Schulman, creator and executive producer of the documentary “Catfish” and the MTV show of the same name, which helps people uncover if their online relationships are legitimate, is investigating the Te’o case and is in touch with the woman whose pictures were used in Kekua’s Twitter account.
While acknowledging there are unanswered questions in Teo’s narrative, Schulman said this isn’t the most elaborate “Catfish” hoax he’s seen — and Schulman is inclined to believe the player’s version.
Asked if the NCAA was monitoring the Te’o story for possible rules violations, NCAA president Mark Emmert said: “We don’t know anything more than you do.”