Manti Te’o Speaks Out: “I Wasn’t Faking It”
Manti Te’o has broken his silence on the hoax involving a made-up dead girlfriend, telling ESPN that he played no part in the shocking, sensational prank that’s made headlines worldwide.
“I wasn’t faking it,” insisted the star Notre Dame linebacker, during an off-camera interview with Jeremy Schaap that lasted more than two hours. He added, “I wasn’t part of this.”
Te’o, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, was in a long-term online “relationship” with a woman he says he believed to be “Lennay Kekua” before she purportedly died of leukemia in September. It’s since been revealed that Kekua never existed.
Te’o says aspiring “The Voice” contestant Ronaiah Tuiasosopo called him this week and admitted to being behind the hoax, along with two other perpetrators. “Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing,” Te’o told ESPN, although he can’t identify the others. “I don’t know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah’s one.” After the interview, Te’o showed Schaap Twitter direct messages in which Tuiasosopo admitted to and apologized for the prank. According to Te’o, “When [people] hear the facts, they’ll know. They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”
Even if Te’o was not behind the hoax in the first place, questions still remain about why the football star repeatedly spoke about Kekua — to friends and in the media — as though he’d met her in person, even after a bizarre December phone call from a woman claiming to be the dead “Kekua” led Te’o to tell Notre Dame about the situation and prompt an investigation.
Te’o claims he “tailored” his stories because he knew others would find the nature of his “relationship” strange, at one point lying to his father about having met “Kekua,” a claim his dad relayed to reporters.
“I knew that — I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well,” explained Te’o. “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.” In reality, says Te’o, he never saw Kekua’s face.
Multiple attempts to communicate with her on Skype and FaceTime never led to an actual visual face-to-face conversation, and several planned rendezvouses in Los Angeles and Hawaii were called off or involved people coming in Kekua’s place.
He never visited her in the hospital when she purportedly fell into a coma following an April car accident, and did not attend her “funeral” in December because, “[Her family] didn’t want — and I didn’t want myself — I didn’t want that to be the first time that I saw her was laying in a coffin.”