Notre Dame’s linebacker Manti Te’o, whose relationship with a deceased girlfriend was central topic for discussion during the team’s unbeaten regular season, was the victim of an elaborate hoax, a school’s spokesperson revealed Wednesday after a Deadspin story alleged the woman never existed.
Manti Te’o, who’s become the star during this year’s BCS championship and finished second for the Heisman Trophy, confessed today that he fell in love with a girl online last year who turned out not to be real.
The university’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, said the school has been investigating the “cruel hoax” since the star said late December to say he believed he had been tricked.
Soon the school hired private investigators to monitor online chatter by the alleged perpetrators, Swarbrick said, adding that he was shocked when such a “casual cruelty” was later revealed.
“They enjoyed the joke,” the director said, comparing the hoax to the popular film “Catfish,” which reveals a story of a person at the other end of an online relationship was not who they said they were.
“While we still don’t know all of the dimensions of this … there are certain things that I feel confident we do know,” Swarbrick said.
“The first is that this was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax, perpetrated for reasons we don’t understand,” he added.
Te’o said during the season that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia in early fall on the same day Te’o’s grandmother died, triggering an outpouring of support for Te’o at Notre Dame and in the media, reports ABC News.
“While my grandma passed away and you take, you know, the love of my life [Kekua]. The last thing she said to me was, ‘I love you,'” Te’o said at the time, noting that he had talked to Kekua on the phone and by text message until her death.
Responding to a story first reported by the sports website Deadspin, to which the sport star had revealed that Kekua never existed.
The website confirmed today that there are no records of a woman named Lennay Kekua anywhere. Meanwhile, Te’o denied that he was involved in the hoax.
“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,” Te’o said in a statement released this afternoon.
“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,” Te’o added.
He went on, adding: “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.”
According to ESPN, Te’o is training in preparation for the NFL draft at the IMG Institute in Bradenton, Fla. He is No. 8 on Mel Kiper’s latest draft board.