Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o had a girlfriend that never existed, leaving a hit to the credibility to one of college football’s top stars this season.
The Notre Dame linebacker was either lying about the girlfriend or was a victim of a hoax that was detailed Wednesday on Deadspin.com. The report said Lennay Kekua never existed.
Fighting Irish players and coaches were told Dec. 26 by Te’o and his parents that the linebacker was a victim of a hoax.
Te’o said on Sept. 12 that his 72-year-old grandmother had died. Then he said he found out six hours later that Kekua had died from leukemia.
He said Kekua’s death was his inspiration to elevate his play. He finished second in Heisman Trophy voting.
However, Te’o said in a statement released Wednesday by Notre Dame that he was a victim of an online relationship that proved to be false.
“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 the statement. “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.”
Deadspin confirmed the existence and death of his grandmother Annette Santiago, on Sept. 12. However, the site could not verify the life or death of Kekua, who supposedly attended Stanford. The site checked, among other sources, that the Social Security Administration records in Nexis also could not find records of her or at Stanford, where she supposedly attended.
ESPN reported that Te’o was vetted heavily by Notre Dame officials when the scam was revealed. When the school learned in December that Kekua was a hoax, citing sources, and said they did not believe he was involved. However, another source claimed Te’o was involved in the hoax.
Te’o said he often talked to Kekua while she was in a hospital bed and they had met after a game against Stanford.
Also, Kekua’s photo, which was circulated soon after her reported death, was that of another 22-year-old woman, Deadspin reported. That photo was also attached a Twitter account under Kekua’s name. Deadspin reported it may have been created by a family friend named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Te’o, a senior, is currently working out in preparation for the NFL Draft. He is the No. 1 ranked linebacker by NFLDraftScout.com and is projected as the 10th overall selection.