Manti Te’o on if he was in on girlfriend hoax: ‘when people hear the facts, they’ll know’

When I first glanced at this ESPN story we’re discussing below, in which Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was interviewed by ESPN, I assumed it was a sit-down interview on camera and that we would soon be putting this story to rest. (Go here and here for a recap.) But no! Manti was interviewed off-camera, and he has yet to do a video interview. He’s still planning on baring his soul on camera, though, and will reportedly talk to Katie Couric. This complicated story will not die quietly, that’s for sure.

Before we quote ESPN here’s a quick primer. Te’o claimed he lost his girlfriend to leukemia last September. The sports blog Deadspin investigated and found that the girlfriend never existed and that Twitter accounts under her name were run by a guy named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. A source told Deadspin that Ronaiah and Manti were “family friends” and suggested Manti was involved. In a statement to the press, Manti denied being in on the hoax and claimed he was the victim of an elaborate internet scam. Notre Dame backed his version of the story.

I’m going to try and do justice to the latest developments, but I should say first that I’m starting to buy the version of events that Manti’s people are putting out there. I believe it’s possible that Manti got catfished by an acquaintance who scammed him into falling for a fake woman online. Manti could have embellished details of the relationship to the press so as not to sound like an idiot who fell in love with a woman sight unseen. And he could have overstated his connection to the woman in order to play up her “death” for sympathy. It’s possible he wasn’t in on the whole thing. Even if he were complicit in it, as some of you have commented this isn’t a huge scandal compared to what we’ve seen from other sports stars. It has blown up like one, but in the scheme of things this is minor. He wasn’t cheating the game, running an illegal gambling scheme or abusing anyone.

Here’s what Manti told ESPN in this latest interview, with more at the source.

Te’o spoke at the IMG Training Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he is preparing for the NFL draft. There were no television cameras at the interview, which was recorded on audio.

The Notre Dame linebacker said he did not make up anything to help his Heisman Trophy candidacy. Te’o finished second to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” he said. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”

In the interview, Te’o also said:

  • He lied to his father about having met Kekua, prompting his father to tell reporters that Te’o and Kekua had met. Several media stories indicated that Te’o and Kekua had met. Te’o insisted they never did.

  • He tried to speak with Kekua via Skype and FaceTime on several occasions, but the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a “black box” and wasn’t seen.

  • He planned to meet Kekua in person several times, including in Los Angeles and Hawaii, but on each occasion she called off the meeting or sent others in her place.

  • The first time he met Tuiasosopo was in Los Angeles. Notre Dame beat USC there on Nov. 24.

  • A group of people connected to Tuiasosopo showed up at the team hotel, after curfew, for the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami. [Ed note: this was on January 7, 2013, after Te'o was told Kekua died. "She" had contacted him prior to this, but still after her "death," on December 6, 2012] Te’o said he knew they were at the hotel because the group took photos in the hotel lobby. Someone in the group called Te’o, saying they were waiting for Kekua to join them in the lobby and asking if she was with him. Te’o then hung up. Te’o said it did not affect his play in the game, where Notre Dame lost to Alabama 42-14.

  • Te’o was never asked for money during the plot, but Kekua once requested his checking account number in order to send him money. Te’o did not provide his account number.


    A South Bend Tribune report described Te’o and Kekua touching hands during an in-person meeting in 2009 at Stanford, but Te’o said that never happened and he didn’t know Kekua until 2010.

    “I’d never told anybody that I’ve touched her hand,” he said.

    Te’o said he altered his stories so his family and others would think he did met Kekua in person.

    “That goes back to what I did with my dad,” Te’o said. “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. 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…”

    Te’o talked often about a “spiritual connection” between him and Kekua. Te’o discussed a ritual where he and Kekua exchanged scripture readings. Soon, his father and mother joined in. They used the SOAP method of study, which stands for scripture, observation, application, and prayer…

    In late June or early July, Te’o said Kekua and her brother told him she had leukemia.

    On Sept. 12, his mother and father called Te’o to tell him his grandmother had died. He said Kekua called him after his grandmother’s death.

    “I was angry. I didn’t want to be bothered,” he said. “So Lennay was just trying to be there for me. I just, I just — I just wanted my own space. We got in an argument. She was saying, ‘You know, I’m trying to be here for you.’ I didn’t want to be bothered. I wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to be by myself.

    “Last thing she told me was ‘Just know I love you.’ ”

    Later that day, Te’o was told Kekua had died from leukemia. He said he was in the Notre Dame locker room when he got
    the call.

  • [From ESPN]

    ESPN has also posted a transcript featuring highlights from the interview, in Manti’s own words, if you’re interested.

    That story is insane, right? Most people would have questioned the story the first or second time the person refused to meet them or skype with them, but maybe this guy wanted to believe. Maybe he’s never encountered a scam artist and believs people are inherently good. This person bared her soul to him and he felt like he knew her.

    As I mentioned, I’m starting to believe him! That could be due to ESPN’s very convincing story and the way they framed Manti’s comments. It would be easier for me to judge this guy’s sincerity if we could see his interview. He’ll have a chance for that soon enough.

    ESPN has related story from a source close to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who claims that he admitted to her that he conspired to scam Manti Te’o. Ronaiah’s female cousin would talk to Manti on the phone for hours every night, posing to be the fake woman. What’s more is that Ronaiah has allegedly victimized other people online. The details in this story add up with previous versions we’ve heard.

    TMZ claims that Manti had another, real girlfriend, in the wake of his fake girlfriend’s “death.”

    After I wrote all that, I found this story in which Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s uncle claims that Ronaiah may go public with his side. There’s probably a ton of pressure on this guy to come clean about his involvement and clear Manti’s name.

    Header photo credit: Ryan Jones, ESPN interviews.

     

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    59 Responses to “Manti Te’o on if he was in on girlfriend hoax: ‘when people hear the facts, they’ll know’”

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    1. Riana says:

      A part of me really wonders why people care about this.

      Yes, he lied. Yes, this story is bizarre.

      …but this has zero to do with his actual PLAYING…it has nothing to do with steroid use, cheating, any manipulation of his football stats or scores…

      Would I ever date the guy with the made-up girlfriend with leukemia? Heck no. But considering the only requirement is tossing rubber back and forth over a field and having a 53-inch neck I’m just not sure why this is the ‘scandal’ it is.

      • Kate (newer one) says:

        I have to say, given the women-related scandals sportsmen have been embroiled in over the years, this does seem pretty minor. And I don’t even mean the Tiger Woods variety – I mean the OJ and Mike Tyson type.

        “Imaginary girlfriend hoax” isn’t in that ballpark, is it.

        • T.C. says:

          I don’t follow football but I heard about this guy because of his personal story. He became a big deal not only due to his playing but because of his human interest story. He benefited so there should be as much publicity as possible in outing his lies. It really is a character issue to me, no less important than Tiger Woods cheating which also had nothing to do with his golf skills.

      • MrsB says:

        If you are a college football fan, like I am (go Gamecocks!) then you heard about him and his story the WHOLE season, it got so much press. Many people feel that he wouldn’t have been a Heisman finalist if it wasn’t for this story. So, for me it makes me upset b/c I feel like he got undeserving praise when other people deserved it more. But comparatively speaking, yeah nobody really got hurt and it probably isn’t a big deal in the long run.

        • Riana says:

          I don’t follow football and never heard of him before this scandal, a lot of the comments by people made it seem like his spot was pretty much confirmed and the girlfriend story was just a bit of extra publicity.

          So thank you for shining it in that light.

          I’m sure it boosted him up, the image of him as the poor guy who’s world was defined by his losses, I wonder how much of an edge it gave him over other players.

        • The Original Mia says:

          Yeah. Football fan (Go Dawgs!) and it was nauseating hearing about him every Saturday. I also feel he probably took awards away from much more deserving players because he was the football story of the year. It may seem silly to those who don’t follow football, but it speaks to his character that he would use a fake girlfriend to his advantage.

        • MrsB says:

          Have to admit, I am surprised how much attention it is getting outside the sports world. I probably wouldn’t think it was a big deal if I wasn’t a football fan.
          @Mia totally agree. All those defensive awards should’ve gone to either JD Clowney or Jarvis Jones. They are both more talented and deserving than Teo!

        • Bodhi says:

          A Gamecoks fan?? I must confess that I root for Clemson during the Big Game, but I don’t actually care, lol! I root for whichever SC team is playing :-D

      • Annie says:

        BECAUSE HE LIED for press!! He invented a sob story so everyone thought he was an inspiring athlete who played brilliantly after losing two very important people in his life! And everyone bought it! And now he was caught and the school is going to back him because schools do EVERYTHING for their athletes and teams. Look at the Steubenville case and the Sandusky case. Doesn’t mean he’s innocent. He’s a total moron

        And you don’t see the big deal in lying? Then you must do it a lot in your personal life.

      • crazycatlady says:

        I agree. I’ve said the same thing over on Huffpost. But after reading up a little more about it, I learned that yes, he spoke a lot about this “girlfriend” to the press. But it still illustrates how sports – not just pro now but college – are waaaaay to important in this country. There are looooooots more things to give this much attention to, folks. Like the fact that our planet is frying us and we act like it’s just another political “issue” to be bandied about by talking heads and prostituting politicians who only care about where their next campaign dollar is coming from…

      • KC says:

        It’s because they are pissed at themselves for believing it too. They want to think they are so much smarter, so much better judges of characters, that the wool could never be pulled over their eyes. And then it was. And now they are lashing out at him for it.

    2. Esmom says:

      I’m starting to believe him, too.

      Also, I was fascinated with the whole hoax thing for a couple days, now I’m just sick of it. It’s time for the media to move on.

      • Kate says:

        The Manti Te’o part of this now bores me. He’s a COMPLETE idiot and a fame whore, who loved the attention. What really bothers me though is the compliant press, accepting everything he and ND say at face value and failing to follow up when their own research showed screaming red flags about the girlfriend’s existence. If this guy’s reputation hadn’t preceded him, and say, the kid was straight from the projects, had dreads, went to Auburn or LSU instead of ND, would the sports media have been so accepting of him? Highly doubt it. Pathetic job by some very well respected writers and publications.

        The other aspect that flies all over me is ND’s whitewashing of it and insistence on maintaining the narrative of their golden boy. Their sham “investigation” is just laughable. I really thought these universities might have learned a thing or two from the Penn State situation, but apparently not (not that I’m comparing the magnitude of the two, but each university attitude/response was similar).

        • Esmom says:

          Agreed that ND’s handling of the situation is despicable. They immediately went into damage control mode, their AD even cried on camera about it.

          But when two innocent people died in relation to their football program (the student videographer and the woman who was sexually assaulted) they could barely be bothered to respond. That’s a big part of this story, too.

    3. Kate (newer one) says:

      The thing that does make this seem weird, though, is Skype. Surely if he had an online girlfriend in this day and age he’d expect to Skype with her? Is the story that someone impersonated her to him, or what? Huh. I suppose more will come out. But if it’s true, I feel really bad for him. He thought someone he cared for a lot had died, then finds out “she” was a giant scam, and is subject to massive public humiliation on top. Horrible situation. And if it is true I definitely think people should back off and let him deal with it with a little more privacy.

      Totally off topic, but why do millionaire sportsmen have such ugly kitchens? It’s a thing. I’ve noticed before.

    4. Erinn says:

      I’m kind of wondering if the guys gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But he’s a college football player, I’m sure he has girls throwing themselves at him, and he instead chooses to spend his time ‘dating’ some girl he’d never even met. It’s an odd story.

    5. Lucy2 says:

      I could see someone getting played for a few weeks or months, but this went on for three or four years!
      If he really was duped, and really was embarrassed about having an online only girlfriend, why talk about it at all? Why let it become part of your public image and use it to your advantage for publicity?
      I just don’t get it. If he really wasn’t in on it then he is incredibly dense and naïve.

    6. Carol says:

      His story still doesn’t add up for me. I hope he is not guilty because otherwise he has completely thrown his accomplice under the bus to save himself.

    7. Cece says:

      Too many things do not add up. A woman you love is in a serious car accident, and you don’t bother going to the hospital. Skype conveniently never works. Her family tells you not to come to the funeral…

      I think he probably thought she was real at first, but I can’t believe that he didn’t figure it out eventually.

      He played the sympathy game before, and he’s doing it now again. He’s trying to stay in the spotlight. Nothing criminal, but something very, very wrong with this situation. Can’t anyone just let their talent speak for their worth anymore???

    8. Kim says:

      I believe him ,there are others who were duped by the same fake GF. Also he tried Skype but her face would be blackened out or some other technical glitch

    9. JustJen says:

      It’s ironic that this story is so close to the one about Lance Armstrong on the celebitchy homepage.

      Is this on the same scale? Of course not. But how much feel-good publicity did this little story generate for him? How many sympathy Heisman votes did he get? We’ll never know. But the bottom line is that is SHOULD just be about playing the game.

      I can’t help feeling that there is more to the story and that he knew something wasn’t right or was in on it all along. Celebrities manipulate the public all the time. Is it really that crazy to think that athletes are doing it now too?

      • Masque says:

        Actually I think the Lance sitch is why this story is getting so much attention. We’re all reeling from Lance’s lies and are sensitive to any athlete lying to get fame/money.

        Also athleticism is supposed to be based on talent and effort. Lying/cheating to win is the worst thing you can do in sports. Even worse than murder, rape and dogfighting. After all, those sins are commited on people outside of the sporting world. Lance and Manti lied TO the sporting world.

        Con whoever you want but don’t con your own crew.

    10. Sarah says:

      Hmm, the spin on this is pretty good. I’m inclined to believe that he may be telling the truth now but again he hasn’t said anything live yet. It just seems like a big mess from a bunch of a–hole people who wanted to screw with someone famous and gullible. I think what sells me the most on it is that he didn’t want to talk after his grandmother’s death and then the brother calls to say lennay died too. It’s just like a way to make him feel insanely bad for not talking to her that day.

      Now two days ago I was pretty convinced that he and ronaiah were in a gay relationship together and communicating I love yous through Lennay’s account. The benefits of his “grief” on his heisman campaign were just bonuses.

    11. T.C. says:

      I don’t believe him. He got a lot of publicity due to this dying girlfriend public interest story that he FREELY shared with the world. ESPN was complacent in lying for Tiger Woods or avoiding showing him in bad light for years because it benefits them. Notre Dame always protects their guys. Now he is going on Katie’s show just like Lance on Oprah to be a public redemption. Not buying what you are selling anymore.

    12. Nina W says:

      I think he was duped, even the ESPN interviewer believed him after talking to him. I feel bad for the guy and everyone starting gay rumors and jumping on the bash Te’o bandwagon is really lame when we don’t know the facts. It’s easy to be conned and it’s humiliating when you find out the truth.

      • MrsB says:

        He very well may have been duped. But that still doesn’t excuse away all the lies he and his family told about actually meeting her. At the very least, he is guilty of lying about how serious their relationship was because it made for good publicity and hype for him. He also continued to lie about her after he says he realized it was a hoax.

    13. Questions says:

      While I totally agree that in the scheme of things, no one got hurt, maimed or whatever, so it may be blown out of proportion, this is still highly manipulated spin. If you’ve ever dealt with PR, he’s getting very high caliber advice (what you don’t see in this photo is his advisor sitting there to the side), he gave the interview off camera at what? 11pmET? So he could control the whole story. ESPN was dying for the scoop, and ran at it so fast that Schaap had to come back and ‘correct’ a number of errors from his original reporting on their meeting once Deadspin pointed out the continuing holes. I don’t think he was totally masterminding this, but to have someone you thought was real “die” and not take any steps around that (funeral, visit her family, send flowers to a real funeral home) seems bizarre and that’s only one issue in the whole thing. heck, you have to wonder about Notre Dame, because they certainly would have wanted to make an effort in memorial for her too, given the publicity. And the Couric interview is now suspect because Te’o and Couric share the same publicist, as was reported.

      But, it isn’t his performance on the field – so teams will have to decide if this is a factor for them.

    14. The Original Mia says:

      Still don’t believe him. Too many things don’t add up. He never went to see the sick and dying girlfriend that he professed to one and all was the love of his life. Who does that? He spent all this time on the phone with her, listening to her breathing, but where are the phone records to prove this?

      He’s a dim bulb. He probably was duped in the beginning, but once he found out the truth, he willing participated and embellished the details for his own gain. Namely, the Heisman (which he lost to the better player) and his draft pick, which is dropping due to the fact he was showed up in the NC game. Frauds are always exposed.

    15. Abra says:

      I wish the press would stop acting like we hold professional athletes to some sort of higher moral standard.
      Chad Johnson legally changed his last name to Ochocinco, Plexico Burress shot himself in the leg while wearing sweatpants in a night club, Sammy Sosa sat in front of Congress and acted like he didn’t speak English, Mike Tyson bit a guys ear during a fight and has a tattoo… on his face. Let’s not get started on Tiger Woods and Pacman Jones.
      If Marshawn Lynch still has a job, Manti Te’o is going to be just fine.

      • aud says:

        Ray Lewis covered up a murder and got away with it.

        Terrell suggs threatened to pour bleach on his own baby, punched his gf and dragged her body along as he drove. So bad the cops confiscated his weapons out of fear that he’ll kill her. They got married soon after instead

        Both guys still playing and Lewis is praised like a God

        This might hurt his draft stock but he will be drafted. Teams don’t want a naive player.

        You gotta establish your career before you can get away with stuff. It’s easy to drop in the draft

    16. ms.steel says:

      ok ill be honest, kind of stupid but I did this before… I mean way back in high school more than a decade ago, too excited to use my precious 3310 nokia, I found this textmate far far away from me. we exchanged photos once but we never heard each other’s voice. duration was over 2 years I think. every new year, he call my phone and let me listen to fireworks but never heard his voice. we text each other everyday, also sent emails occasionally then later exchanging iloveUs and imissUs. I told my friends hes my bf etc etc. and they were like wow… giggles giggles. kind of imaginary i think and im convincing myself like eat your heart out classmates, i have bf too! then one time I received a wrong txt msg from him, intended to a guy. I assumed he was gay so I asked him. he never replied back since then. no idea what happened to him after that. dont even know if maybe he is mute, cant walk, or maybe hes someone who knew me & playing a joke on me, whatever. all I recall was he was nice to me, helped me a lot of my school assignments hehe. i almost forgot this part of my life till I read about manti. I know what I did was crazy but if youre young you do many stupid things.

      I believe Manti when I first learn this, its just that I don’t understand whats going on at first.
      Theres also another Hawaiian beauty queen who said she was a victim of Kekua. Kekua “introduced” her to Ronaiah.

    17. Agrippina says:

      I wouldn’t believe Manti at all, but almost the exact same thing is happening to a kid I know right now. He’s around the same age, also an Eagle Scout, and a baseball player. The “girl” he met online and is now in love with claims to be suicidal, and has never skyped with him because she “doesn’t want him to see all of the scars on her body.” He’s bought it hook, line, and sinker. The only difference here is that his parents knew this was crazy and plonked him in therapy months ago. Even with everyone telling him this “relationship” is probably a scam, he refuses to give it up. The therapist has just made him cut back on the amount of time he spends talking to this girl online in the hopes that he’ll find someone out in the real world eventually. He’d never had a girlfriend before, and he’s led a really wholesome and kind of sheltered life. I think he’s just lonely and overly trusting. I can easily see this Manti kid being the same.

    18. aud says:

      I’m biased cause I met my husband online, long distance.

      I’m inclined to believe him because I know how embarrassing it is. You don’t want to tell friends and family that you’ve never actually met your significant other. People look at you like you’re insane and pathetic. I also hid my relationship details for a long time to avoid mean comments/gossip/pressure. Would be even worse as a well known college athlete

      Luckily my husband is real and really who he said he was. All worked out, moved to Canada to be with him and we’re going strong 4 years later

      But I know a couple other people who were duped by liars online. It’s easy to get sucked in. It’s not as common now thanks to smart phones/built in webcams etc. Not as easy to excuse not going on skype

      I do think he used it to his advantage though. When life hands you lemons…

      • DreamyK says:

        You don’t say how long ago you made your internet love connection and that’s a vital piece of this story.

        We have skype, computer cam’s, smartphones, tablets, laptops..all sorts of ways to SEE the person in real time during a conversation.

        He’s either a lying liar or a complete simpleton. Given that he’s a college student and has to have a certain GPA, I’m going with lying liar.

        • KC says:

          Honestly, it’s people like you who are the naive ones if you think you’re immune to being hoodwinked by a con artist. I suggest you google and read the article “The Lying Disease” by Cienna Madrid, google Janna St. James, Kaycee Nicole, the Talhotblond/marinesniper love triangle that got a young man killed, Lori Drew and Megan Meier and the Warrior Eli Hoax Group.

        • aud says:

          met him almost 6 years ago. started dating 4 years ago. We were together probably 2-3 months before we skyped for the first time.

          So I knew him over 2 years before we went on cam for the first time. We talked on the phone before that and it felt real enough for me. We were always talking on the go or didn’t have cams or had people over. Skyping just never came up for a long time, honestly. didn’t matter considering our close bond/friendship

          A duped friend knew the person about 6 years ago as well. They just talked on phone, no cams. She trusted the person. Eventually the person was caught in lies, confronted and outed as a huge liar. Took a huge toll on my friend though

          Another friend was duped about 2 years ago. But she finally confronted the person because of the refusal to skype etc. And the person just disappeared when she got too pushy about it

    19. taxi says:

      Good thing I don’t draft pro-footballers, because I’d never hire any anyone this dumb. He lied to his folks, claimed he’d met her, kept up the charade for ages, spent many hours online with “her”. Before a guy starts publicly talking about his gf, he’s usually met her. “Love of his life”? Sympathy appeal for PR. Maybe his grades came up after he didn’t have to spend hours on line with “her”. If not, he was faking it anyway.
      No sympathy for this fool here.

      • Kate says:

        Agreed. The best thing you can say about him is he is a complete and utter idiot. I am ok believing he was originally duped, but he clearly played this up to his advantage, which he continues to do (see upcoming Katie Couric interview with his parents). The guy is a fame whore. I don’t want my team anywhere near him.

        It’s an awfully tough sell when your story is, well, I lied about this and this, but I’m not lying about that.

        Fame whore.

    20. crazycatlady says:

      I don’t think it’s implausible that he was duped either. I mean, look at him. Listen when he opens his mouth. He’s a stereotypical athlete – more brawn less brains. (I decided to be more polite instead of saying he’s dumb as a box of rocks…)

    21. Joanna says:

      all i got to say is, liar, liar, pants on fire. Oh and BUSTEED!!

    22. someone says:

      We’ll never get to the truth during a Katie Couric interview. She’s going to throw him easy questions and let him cry. What he needs to do is show his phone records and text message records and prove that he did talk to “someone” for several hours at a time over a length of months. That is the only thing that will prove that he wasn’t in on it.