I saw the story break on Twitter late this afternoon. A Deadspin article claiming that the story about Manti Te’o and his tragically deceased girlfriend was an elaborate hoax. That “Lennay Marie Kekua” never existed and we were all made fools of.
It appears that Manti Te’o met a girl in Palo Alto, California after Stanford defeated the Irish in 2009. You read that right…2009. They exchanged information and proceeded to start a relationship based solely on internet and phone interaction. He had apparently met her in Hawaii from time to time, but it seems this part of the story was never confirmed by anyone.
The Deadspin article, written by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, goes so far to say that her car accident never occurred, she was never enrolled at Stanford and there is no record of her death. Her death, which Manti apparently was told to remember on the field and not at her funeral, should have been a clue to all of us. His stories (and likewise the reporting newspapers) had the death listed a day after the grandmother’s death, as well as three and four days after. So when did she die? Why was this so vague?
Throw in tons of other inconsistencies that you can find in the original article, and we got ourselves one hell of a problem. So why would Te’o lie to us? Why would he drag his family and friends through all this mud just to get a little extra sympathy when his real life grandmother really did die?
Twitter erupted with this news. Notre Dame fans were outraged and upset and confused. Notre Dame haters were laughing and confused. One thing and one thing only was certain: someone was in some giant PR d00-doo.
The world cried out for Notre Dame to respond…and respond they did. This is the entirety of the email I received from Brian Hardin, Notre Dame’s Director of Football Media Relations:
“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.”
The release came from Dennis Brown, Assistant VP of Public Information and Communications and a university spokesman.
So what does this mean?
Apparently Te’o found out some time before December 26th that the girl he was in love with was not only not dead, but not real. It means that “the proper authorities” have been looking into this since at least that date upon which Te’o informed the university of the hoax. It means that millions and millions of people were still being duped for at least three weeks after the authorities had been been notified. And now, it means that we still don’t know what to believe.
I have so many questions right now:
- Why are we, the public, finding out from some second-rate blog source and not from the University of Notre Dame?
- On a similar note, where was ESPN? Fox? CBS? Chicago Trib? Washington Post? Where are the investigative reporters that are paid six figure salaries?
- Do we believe Te’o anymore? He gains nothing by inventing this death when he was already grieving for a real death. Sure it made the story more sad, but I doubt someone out there said, “I didn’t feel bad for him until ANOTHER person died.” Nothing good came out of this for him.
- Rumors are floating around that whoever is behind this hoax has contacted former ND recruit (current UF enrollee) Alex Anzalone, as well, claiming to be Te’o's girlfriend, Lennay. Who else is this person lying to?
There is a lot to still find out and I’m doing my best to hold back judgment on Te’o and Notre Dame, but there were a lot of mistakes made in this story and both of them made those mistakes.
A lot of people are going to be hurt by this, most notably Te’o's family. They will be harassed and mud-slung and it will be for no fault of their own.
This will be an insane story to follow, and I’ll do my best to stay on top of it; but let us please, please try to use better judgment and restraint than the very people we want to blame right now.
UPDATED: Manti Te’o releases statement
“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.”
If this is true, then we know Manti had lied about how he met “Lennay.” I’m still prone to sympathize with Te’o, who is very obviously a simple, innocent young man. The thought of him falling victim to a con artist is very believable. In fact, the kind of person he is (charitable, religious, etc.) is exactly the kind of person that becomes a mark easily for a con.
Such an insane, tragic story.