Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says he's the victim of an elaborate hoax. The bizarre revelation that Te'o's girlfriend never existed was first reported by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey for Deadspin.com. Anderson Cooper spoke with Burke and David Haugh, a sports columnist with the Chicago Tribune.
Te'o, a Heisman candidate, had a personal story that elicited sympathy and made his accomplishments on the field seem even more impressive, considering the enormous loss he was supposedly experiencing.
The story goes that in September, in the span of just six hours, he learned that both his grandmother and girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died. In a game days later, he made 12 tackles and led his team to a 20-3 upset over Michigan State.
10 days later Te'o skipped his girlfriend's funeral because he said she made him promise he wouldn't miss any games. Notre Dame won, and Te'o was given the game ball in memory of Kekua.
He later gave an interview to ESPN describing the emotional toll of losing his grandmother and the love of his life.
The Deadspin article laid out the details of an extensive online search that yielded no results on Kekua, her death from leukemia, or her funeral. The authors also traced the origin of Twitter photos from an account that claimed to be her and found a real person who was shocked at how her images were used.
Burke and Dickey looked into Kekua after they received an anonymous email last week.
Today Te'o released a statement, saying in part:
"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."
Burke doesn't believe Te'o is completely innocent. For starters, he says the story of the couple initially meeting face to face doesn't add up. "When Te'o said 'I know I'll see my girlfriend again someday,' we know now that they never saw each other in the first place," he says. Burke also says he doesn't have an opinion either way about Te'o's guilt or innocence in the matter and was just trying to solve the mystery.
Haugh has written about Te'o and says there's more that needs to be explained. He is eager to hear the other side of the story, but remains skeptical about the narrative at this point. "I think his best bet in a situation like this would be to be totally transparent," he suggests. "If he is truly a victim of a cruel hoax, as Notre Dame put it, then he has nothing to hide."
As for the school's role in this tangled web, Notre Dame said in a statement today that on Dec. 26 Te'o and his family alerted them that the football player was the victim of a hoax. Notre Dame kept quiet about the alleged hoax until the Deadspin story was posted and now school officials are under scrutiny. Many question why they waited weeks to speak out.
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