Manti Te'o was one of the biggest names in college sports last year. The Notre Dame Linebacker finished second in voting for the 2012-2013 Heisman trophy and is projected to go high in the first round at the NFL draft.
Te'o was not only a force on the field but also gained some acclaim for incidents that occurred off the field. During this past season Manti received word that his grandmother and girlfriend had both passed away, six hours apart. Undeterred, Manti played the next game for Notre Dame and was a star in a 20-3 upset of Michigan State.
Inspirational, right? Well, hold onto your Rudy hats and Coach Carter DVDs. It looks like Manti was flubbing the truth about the events surrounding the Michigan game.
Deadspin reports that although Manti's grandmother did pass away, his girlfriend did not. In fact, his girlfriend might not have ever existed.
Let's take a step back. Manti's girlfriend was supposedly named Lennay Kekua and was a Stanford student. The South Bend Tribune even wrote an article about the young couple in which it said they met while in college. The Tribune reported that Lennay was multi-lingual and had a knack for music.
The two met in 2009 but did not start going out until 2012. That is when Lennay's story line gets somewhat blurry. Somewhere in 2012 she gets into a car accident, then somewhere in 2012 she gets leukemia and then on September 12 she dies. Te'o did not attend the funeral because (as reported by the LA Times) Kekua insisted that Te'o never should miss a game.
That all sounds sweet until you actually go into some investigation of who Lennay REALLY is. There is no Social Security record of Lennay Kekua. There is no record in the registrar that Kekua ever attended Stanford. There is no announcement of her passing or obituary in the Stanford student paper. On top of that, there is no record of her birth on file.
So with the exception of some Twitter posts and Instagram pictures, Lennay Kekua never existed.
Here is where the story gets even weirder. Notre Dame released a statement today:
Notre Dame Statement: Manti Te’o
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
So the choice is yours. You can believe that Manti was duped by some random girl who lived under the alias of Lennay Kekua for three years without Manti so much as thinking it was weird that he never met her family and had to say "Lennay, Can you pass the milk?" five times before she would realize he was talking to her OR you can believe he is full o' crap.
I am tempted to go with the latter.
I wonder how Twitter is taking the news:
What the hell manti teo? #famewhore
— Chelsea Kerr (@ChelseaLKerr) January 16, 2013
@mteo_5 how's your girlfriend?
— Sam Nassar (@SamNassar23) January 16, 2013
Deadspin just ruined Manti Teo's April Fools joke.
— D McKerr (@BoilerDmac) January 16, 2013
You got a lot of issues sir @mteo_5
— Christian Gange (@cgange44) January 16, 2013
Clearly fans are pissed at Manti, and I guarantee that NFL teams are taking notice of Te'o's antics.
Manti released a statement today addressing the hoax, claiming that his Internet affair with an imaginary women made him a duped victim, not a fraud:
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.
At the end of the day, Te'o was a dominant NCAA player with a huge NFL upside. On one side, he might be the victim of a "Catfish-esque" hoax. On the other side, he might be a terrible person who faked the death of his cancer-ridden fake girlfriend.
Will this affect Te'o's draft spot? Will teams be willing to risk a roster spot on him? Before you say, "Nah, he is still a good player, I can't imagine a team passing on him," think again. I doubt coaches like Bill Belichick would take a risk on him. On the other hand, Rex Ryan...
Did Te'o know that Lennay was fake or was he the victim of a hoax? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.