SOUTH BEND – A report from online sports website Deadspin.com claims that one of college football’s most inspirational stories–that of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his girlfriend’s battle with leukemia–is a fabrication.
According to the website’s report, Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never actually existed, even though the linebacker dedicated his season to her memory and talked about her struggle with leukemia. Te’o grabbed the attention of football fans before the Fighting Irish upset Michigan State as he dealt with the fallout of two deaths–that of his grandmother and his girlfriend.
Te’o lost his grandmother on Sept. 11, 2012, but there are no records of Lennay Kekua’s death. “Outside of of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts,” the article said, “there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.”
The University of Notre Dame responded with a statement saying that Te’o was the victim of a hoax:
“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.”
Te’o has released a statement as well, according to ESPN.com:
“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.”