A stunning revelation that is sending shockwaves through all of sports, but most specifically the storied Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program. Projected first round draft pick and Heisman Trophy finalist, Manti Te’o, captivated the nation this year with his spectacular play, while leading the Irish to the BCS Championship game following an undefeated regular season. Te’o played with a story-line of his own, as his grandmother and girlfriend died just prior to Michigan State playing the Fighting Irish in primetime last September. His girlfriend reportedly had leukemia and was also involved in car accident Playing through tragedy made for great theater, and served as an inspiring story for the whole season. But there is one problem, Te’o never had a girlfriend.
According to a riveting and detailed report from Deadspin, Lenny Kekua, who was supposedly the girlfriend of Te’o. she never even existed.
Did you enjoy the uplifiting story, the tale of a man who responded to adversity by becoming one of the top players of the game? If so, stop reading.
Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.
There is long backstory to the creation of Lennay Kekua, which Deadspin goes into great detail about how this became a social network relationship. They point out that the pictures used are of another girl. The report also discusses a friendship that Te’o has with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is believed to have been the individual that perpetuated the story to garner national attention for Te’o.
There may be more information forthcoming, but from what we read, it appears that all of this is very true on some level. Notre Dame released a statement a little while ago, claiming that Te’o was a 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.
But why is this statement coming out now? After the world had already been duped by Te’o months before? Why wait until Deadspin was sniffing? Our guess is that Deadspin was sniffing around, asking questions, and the Te’o and his family freaked out and went to the athletic department and administration to try and create a smoke screen. The statement has too many holes in it with all the details brought forward by the Deadspin report.
What does this mean for Te’o the football player? Well, we have seen time and again what character can do to an individuals draft stock. But this just isn’t a bad egg. Te’o essentially duped the entire nation into believing a story to build himself up. This isn’t fudging a little bit on your resume. Vontaze Burfict of the Cincinnati Bengals was once considered a fist round draft pick prior to his final season at Arizona State. Yes, he didn’t have a good season, but it was his attitude that caused him to go undrafted last year. It would not shocked us to see Te’o's stock drop as far as that, but more likely could see himself drop to the third day. Teams will not want to invest money into a player with this on his hanging over his head.
We are still not sure what to make of this. At this point, it is an alleged story. We don’t know anything for sure, but our gut tells us that it is true, and it makes us rather sick. Lying is terrible, as it impacts so many people when a lie is told. Trust is so hard to regain.
Update: Statement 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.”