Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy, was either the victim or fabricator of an inspirational story about the death of his girlfriend, according to a Deadspin report. In separate statements, the university and Te'o have confirmed that Te'o's girlfriend did not exist but insist that Te'o himself was the victim of a hoax, not its perpetrator.
The Deadspin report goes into elaborate detail to disprove what Te'o and others around him let reporters believe all season, that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, and his grandmother, Annette Santiago, died within six hours of each other in September. Te'o told several news outlets that the 22-year-old Kekua had been in a serious car accident and had then been diagnosed with leukemia. After hearing the news that both his girlfriend and his grandmother had died, Te'o led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, recording 12 tackles.
There are official death records for Santiago, but in researching Kekua's passing, Deadspin could find no evidence of her death, the car accident, or even her birth. Photographs used for Twitter and Instagram accounts attributed to Kekua were confirmed to be of someone else.
Notre Dame reacted to the story with the following statement:
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
Te'o issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:
"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."
After a 13-6 win over Michigan, Te'o was asked during the press conference why he did not attend funeral services for Kekua.
"You know, I really wanted to see her," said Te'o. "I really wanted to see her. But I knew that she made me promise, you know one day she made me promise that, she said, 'Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you'll still stay over there and that you'll play and that you'll honor me through the way you play, and know that I would rather have you there.' And just make sure that all she wanted was some white roses.
White is her favorite color.
"So she just wanted some white roses and that's all she asked for. So I sent her roses and sent her two picks (interceptions) along with that, so that was good."
-- Related: Globe story on Te'o before the Boston College game.
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