"Its one of the weirdest, saddest stores I've ever come across." - Gene Wojciechowski
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o' finished second in the Heisman vote this season, leading his Irish to the national championship game for the first time in 25 years. He was a terrific story of overcoming the ultimate trials and tribulations in order to succeed as his season started incredibly bleak.
According to Sports Illustrated, Te'o learned of the death of his grandmother on a day in September, only to learn of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua only six hours later.
After interviewing about the death of his girlfriend on nearly every major network, including ESPN, CBS and ABC, it turns out that the entire story was a hoax; at least according to this Deadspin.com report that was released Wednesday.
Te'o claims he fell victim to an online-dating type scam -- which would be beyond incredibly naive, yet believeable. It's something that's happened to personal friends of mine, and if you've seen the movie Catfish, it's not a complete stretch.
Deadspin describes the entire thing as an elaborate fabrication in which Kekua was character created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te'o's and a pastor in Palmdale, Calif.
"We spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te'o wasn't the first person to have an online 'relationship' with her. One mark – who had been 'introduced' to Lennay by Tuiasosopo – lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead. Two sources discounted Ronaiah's stunt as a prank that only metastasized because of Te'o's rise to national celebrity this past season."
According to Deadspin, not only did 'Kekua' not have a death certificate, but was never a registered student at Stanford (as stated) and the only photos that have been found online identified as Kekua are actually photos of a different 22-year-old woman. The best part; the real woman in the pictures supposedly told Deadspin that one of those photos were likely shared by her former high school classmate, Tuiasosopo.
Friends of Tuiasosopo also told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua.
So the gigantigic looming question is whether or not Te'o knew about the hoax and went along with it for publicity or if he really was simply a naive college student in love with a fake online persona.
Te'o issued a statement Tuesday afternoon which was posted on ESPN:
"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."
Josh Helmuth is the editor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JHelmuth or subscribe at Facebook.com/CraveOnlineSports.
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