Manti Te’o is a Notre Dame linebacker considered to be one of the best collegiate football players in the country. He is the star player and captain of Notre Dame’s team who competed and lost in the BCS National Championship game this January. In line with the mythic qualities of Notre Dame, Te’o rose to celebrity status after losing both his grandmother and girlfriend to illness then leading the Fighting Irish to an upset 20-3 victory over Michigan State and recording 12 tackles in the game. The story of loss and endurance, triumph through pain, and firm resolve is heartbreaking and inspirational. But, according to a report from Gawker Media’s Deadspin, and confirmed by Notre Dame representatives, Te’o’s girlfriend Lennay Kekua never existed.
Here is the popular story which has been printed by the likes of Sports Illustrator, The New York Times, The South Bend Tribune and many others goes something like this: Te’o met Kekua in 2009 at Stanford and they dated until her death in September 2012. Kekua had two significant health concerns in that three year period. She was involved in a car accident some time in 2012, then diagnosed with leukemia in June 2012 before dying from complications three months later. Recently, investigative reports have thrown this sad story into question and ultimately debunked the entire myth.
There was no Lennay Kekua. Lennay Kekua did not meet Manti Te’o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te’o in Hawaii. Lennay Kekua was not in a car accident. Lennay Kekua did not talk to Manti Te’o every night on the telephone. She was not diagnosed with cancer, did not spend time in the hospital, did not engage in a lengthy battle with leukemia. She never had a bone marrow transplant. She was not released from the hospital on Sept. 10, nor did Brian Te’o congratulate her for this over the telephone. She did not insist that Manti Te’o play in the Michigan State or Michigan games, and did not request he send white flowers to her funeral. Her favorite color was not white. Her brother, Koa, did not inform Manti Te’o that she was dead. Koa did not exist. Her funeral did not take place in Carson, Calif., and her casket was not closed at 9 a.m. exactly. She was not laid to rest.
Lennay Kekua’s last words to Manti Te’o were not “I love you.”
Miss Kekua is actually the creation of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te’o’s who created an online presence for her using various forms of social media. These accounts used photos of an actual woman who lives in Torrance, California to create Kekua’s likeness. These images were run by multiple reputable news outlets.
The University of Notre Dame issued a statement saying that Te’o is the “victim of a hoax.” And that on December 26, Notre Dame coaches were told by Te’o that Lennay Kekua might not actually exist. Whether or not Te’o was involved with this charade is technically unclear, but one would have to be a fool to assume he wasn’t knowledgable of the circumstances or, at the minimum, complicit in the layers of deceit involved with this story.
Te’o has also recently responded to the unraveling of his story, corroborating Notre Dame’s statement by playing the victim. He claims he met the woman he believed to be Lennay Kekua online, and developed a relationship with her without ever seeing her, and explains that he is just as shocked by the revelation of her nonexistence as everyone else.
“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.”
The Airspace has no business covering sports. But this is not the story of athleticism, it is one of deception and foolishness in the national theater. If you are someone with clout, do not lie or the Internet (not traditional old media) will drive the truth out.
Read the full story on Deadspin to see how this twisted narrative works out. I’m sure more information will come to light in the following days.