Manti Te’o broke his silence late Friday and denied any involvement in the dead girlfriend hoax that has consumed the former Notre Dame All-American for days, while saying the man behind the ruse apologized two days ago via social media.
“I wasn’t faking it,” Te’o told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in an off-camera interview. “I wasn’t part of this.”
A 22-year-old named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo allegedly preyed upon Te’o in creating a bogus woman named Lennay Kekua who began an online- and telephone-only relationship with Te’o, Notre Dame’s bellwether linebacker, only to die in September of leukemia and create a personal back story that propelled Te’o to national renown but ultimately crumbled this week.
Schaap reported after a two and a half hour interview with Te’o that the player wasn’t completely sure Kekua did not exist until two days ago — when Tuiasosopo reached out to Te’o via Twitter to admit he was behind the hoax and apologize for it. Te’o told ESPN that he understood two men and one woman were involved, though he doesn’t know the identities of the individuals other than Tuiasosopo.
ESPN asked Te’o what he believed should happen to Tuiasosopo.
“I hope he learns,” Te’o said. “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.”
Te’o told ESPN he was never asked for money, but Kekua once requested his checking account number in order to send him money. Te’o did not provide it.
As for at least one glaring inconsistency — the story of how Te’o and Kekua met — the former Irish star admitted to a lie. The relationship, such as it was, began during Te’o's sophomore year at Notre Dame via Facebook, he told ESPN. He attempted to contact Kekua via Skype and Facetime but never saw a face on the other end, Te’o said.
And as for the story of meeting Kekua on the field at Stanford in 2009, a tale retold by his father in October, Te’o said: “I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away.”
“I knew that – I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” Te’o said. “And that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”
Te’o also was asked why he never visited Kekua in the hospital while she battled leukemia.
“It never really crossed my mind,” Te’o said. “I don’t know. I was in school.”
As for the Dec. 6 call in which Lennay Kekua reentered his realm, Te’o presented the following sequence as written in the ESPN.com story:
He received a phone call from the number Kekua had used. He answered and a woman’s voice on the other end said there was something she needed to tell him, but it could wait until after the national title game on Jan. 8.
“I said you have to tell me now, because if you don’t tell me now, I’m still going to think about it,” Te’o said. “… She said, well, Manti, it’s me. That’s all she said. And I played stupid for a little bit. I was like, oh, I know it’s you, U’ilani (Kekua’s purported sister) .What do you mean? And she’s like, no, Manti, it’s me.”
Te’o asked who “me” was.
“She said, it’s Lennay,” he said. “So we carried on that conversation, and I just got mad. I just went on a rampage. How could you do this to me? I ended that conversation by saying, simply this: You know what, Lennay, my Lennay died on Sept. 12.”
ESPN reported Friday that Tuiasosopo called a friend from church in early December and admitted he duped Te’o, without the Notre Dame linebacker playing a part in the deception. Deadspin.com, which broke the girlfriend hoax story Wednesday, reported that Te’o might have played a role in the fraud.
Te’o denied that he used the situation to enhance his Heisman Trophy candidacy. He finished second in the voting to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” Te’o told ESPN. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”
Te’o did say the ordeal weighed on him during Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game, in which he played arguably one of the worst games of his career.
Te’o evidently told ESPN that a group of people related to Tuiasosopo showed up at the Notre Dame team hotel before the game and that Te’o knew they were there because they took photos in the lobby.
“It affected me,” Te’o said. “When you’re stuck in big game like that… people depend on you. You need to perform.”
Source: Chicago Tribune