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Manti Te’o: The Bizarre Story Of A College Football Star, With A Made-Up Dead Girlfriend, Sparks A L
January 17, 2013
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It's only mid-January, but you have to think this will go down as one of the most bizarre stories of the year.

Unless you're a fan of U.S. College Football, there's a good chance you hadn't really heard of Manti Te'o.

But today, he's the talk of not just the sports world, but news and social media too - all because of an apparent relationship he had, with a woman who never existed.

Te'o - a star linebacker with Notre Dame - says he's been the victim of an elaborate hoax.

The story goes like this: Te'o had a girlfriend named Lennay Kekua, who he met online.

In September, after a battle with cancer, Kekua died. She passed away just hours after Te'o's real-life grandmother died, after a lengthy illness.

Te'o played through it all - never missing a game and leading Notre Dame all the way to the BCS Championship game, which it lost.

Trouble is, Lennay Kekua never died - because she was never actually alive.

The whole thing came to light after the sports website posted an investigative report saying it could find no record Kekua had ever existed.

It also pointed out a number of inconsistencies in the story, including reports that they had met in person.

After the story broke, Te'o released a statement, saying he was duped into an online and phone relationship.

"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.

"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," he said.

"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."

Notre Dame also said it believes Te'o was the victim of a hoax, and that Te'o told his coaches about it on Boxing Day.

His "girlfriend" Lennay Kekua was said to have been 22-years-old, and a graduate of Stanford University.

She was said to have been in a serious car accident in California, before being diagnosed with leukemia.

Te'o's courage in the face of her death and the death of his grandmother was the cover story in Sports Illustrated in October.

And it was talked about in U.S. newspapers (including the New York Times) and on TV (including CBS & ESPN) throughout the college football season.


Back on September 12, Te'o said he found out his grandmother had died. Hours later, he got a call from his girlfriend's brother, who said Lennay Kekua had died.

Apparently, she had told Te'o not to miss a game. On September 22, he led Notre Dame to an upset win over Michigan State.

Kekua was said to have been buried that day. Te'o told reporters he sent white flowers to her funeral.

Many fans wore Hawaiian leis in her honour. Te'o's coach even dedicated the game ball to his late girlfriend.

After that game, Te'o said "My family and my girlfriend's family have received so much love and support from the Notre Dame family."

"Michigan State fans showed some love. And it goes to show that people understand that football is just a game... I appreciate all the love and support that everybody's given my family and my girlfriend's family."

As the story went, Te'o used the tragedy as inspiration, ending up a finalist for The Heisman Trophy - as the best player in college football.

But says it couldn't find any burial records for Kekua, no death certificate, no obituary, no funeral announcement.

It says there are no records of her birth and no records that she ever went to Stanford University.

Deadspin says it traced Kekua's fake Twitter account to a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who it suggests is a friend of Te'o.

The website also says it got in touch with a woman whose picture was used on the Twitter account.

She reportedly said her name wasn't Lennay Kekua, and she had no idea any of this was going on. Deadspin didn't say what her real name was.

Deadspin says the woman also told them that she was friends with Tuiasosopo back in high school and that she had heard from him out of the blue.

She's quoted as saying Tuiasosopo told her "His cousin had been in a serious car accident, and thought she was pretty."

He apparently asked her to take a picture of himself holding a sign that said 'MSMK' that he could give to his cousin.

She says she sent Tuiasosopo the photo. And as it turns out, the fake account's Twitter handle was @LoveMSMK.

When the woman found that out, she got hold of Tuiasosopo and the photo disappeared.

The Deadspin story says Te'o first tweeted with @LoveMSMK in October of 2011. It says Te'o and Tuiasosopo knew each other and tweeted back and forth.

After the Deadspin report came out, the @LoveMSMK Twitter account was deleted.


There are suggestions Tuiasosopo may have been the one behind the hoax and that Te'o may have been in on it.

Friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created the fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua.

Te'o was asked about his girlfriend again on January 3, a few days before playing in the championship game.

He said: "This team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times."

"I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, 'Do you want to go to the movies?' Coach is always calling me asking me, 'Are you OK? Do you need anything?"'

And yet, a week before that, Te'o had gone to his coaches saying he got a call from Kekua's number in early December. Whoever it was, said Kekua wasn't dead.

"Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference last night.

Notre Dame says it hired investigators to look into things.

Swarbick said the investigators "were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking."

"The casualness among themselves they were talking about what they accomplished."
Swarbrick added that for Te'o "the pain was real. The grief was real. The affection was real."

He also said "Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota."

Notre Dame says it didn't go to the police, instead leaving that up to Te'o and his family.

Te'o is from a small mostly Mormon community in Hawaii, just outside Honolulu. People there who know him don't believe he would ever been in on something like this.

"I just don't see something like that being made up from him or having any part of that because they're not those kind of people," said Lokelani Kaiahua, who went to school with Te'o's parents."

"Everybody's kind of like 'what is going on?'"

In his statement, Te'o said "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."

As you might expect, this story has sparked a bunch of jokes on Twitter.

You can read even more about this story at these links.

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