The news that Manti Te’o's “girlfriend,” Lennay Kekua, did not actually exist, first reported by Deadspin, shook the sports world today. After the news broke, Notre Dame and Manti Te’o both put out statements to explain the situation from their sides.
From Te’o: “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.”
From Notre Dame assistant vice president Dennis Brown: “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.”
These statements do not explain some puzzling quotes from Te’o and his family dating back much earlier than Dec. 26, when Te’o allegedly briefed Notre Dame on the situation.
On October 12th, the South Bend Tribune published a story on the Te’o's relationship with Lennay Kekua that included a quote from Te’o's dad, Brian, that doesn’t mesh well with Te’o's story. The Tribune took down the story hours after the news of the hoax broke, but a full copy can be found via The Deseret News.
“They started out as just friends,” Brian Te’o said. “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”
So Brian Te’o was saying as early as October that Kekua would travel to Hawaii to visit Manti. If this quote is true, then in all likelihood, Manti Te’o had begun lying.
One plausible scenario could have been that Manti was self-conscious about the fact that he had never met the girl that he had fallen for online, so he fabricated stories of visits to friends and family to embellish his relationship. Or maybe Te’o had already figured out the hoax and had begun lying to avoid embarrassment.
Even those scenarios seem unlikely. In that same October story, Brian Te’o said, “And we came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law.”
That would be a strong statement to make for a truth-telling man who had never actually met Kekua. Had Te’o been fabricating the visits to his innocent father, it would still be surprising that Brian wouldn’t have been suspicious of not ever meeting her on those visits.
As these quotes show from just one story back in October, the Manti Te’o girlfriend story is far from over. It’s hard not to make the connection from those statements to every famous athlete who “never knowingly” used illegal steroids. When will Oprah get the phone call?