Te'o's role in girlfriend hoax still unclear
Published Friday, January 18, 2013 7:35AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 18, 2013 9:07AM EST
Two days after the story broke of Notre Dame University football star Manti Te'o and a girlfriend who never actually existed, it’s still unclear whether Te’o himself was in on the hoax.
Sports gossip website Deadspin.com unravelled the tale Wednesday, revealing that Lennay Kekua, the girlfriend whom Te’o spoke of so lovingly to sports journalists, never existed.
It reported that Kekua, who supposedly died of leukemia, appears to be a fabricated character whose Twitter profile bore the photo of another woman apparently not involved in the scam. Deadspin’s story suggests that one of Te’o’s friends created the fake girlfriend.
There are now suspicions that Te’o may have been in on the hoax, although in a statement Wednesday, he insisted he was nothing but a victim in the scheme.
The plot thickened Thursday when The Associated Press discovered that Te’o had talked about Kekua in interviews on Dec. 8 and Dec. 11 – even though Te’o told Notre Dame officials on Dec. 26 that he found out about the hoax on Dec. 6.
The AP found that Te’o talked about his doomed love in a Dec. 8 interview with the website for WSBT.com, a TV outlet in South Bend, Ind., and again in an interview published in The Los Angeles Times on Dec. 10.
In the online interview, Te'o spoke to WSBT.com, the website for a South Bend TV station, and said: "I don't like cancer at all. I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer. So I've really tried to go to children's hospitals and see, you know, children."
Then, in a column that first ran in The Los Angeles Times on Dec. 10, Te'o recounted why he played a few days after he found out Kekua died in September, and the day she was supposedly buried.
"She made me promise, when it happened, that I would stay and play," he said on Dec. 9 while attending a ceremony in Newport Beach, Calif., for the Lott Impact Awards.
When asked for comment, Te'o's agent, Tom Condon, said his client had no plans to make any public statements.
Toronto-based psychotherapist Kimberly Moffit says the whole story is bizarre, but she says it’s possible that Te’o was simply desperate for publicity.
“We can never really know the kind of pressure that superstar athletes are under to create that kind of hero persona for themselves,” she told CTV’s Canada AM Friday.
“He might have felt pressure to create this persona for himself and this dramatic love story to get viewers on his side.”
Moffit says online dating can be a great way to way to meet someone and she’s seen a lot of people use it successfully. But she doesn’t believe anyone can fall truly in love unless they’ve met each other face to face.
“You need a physical relationship in a relationship as well as open dialogue,” Moffitt says.
Notre Dame's athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the school hired investigators to look into the Te’o situation and insisted Wednesday that he was victimized in this case.
The investigators "were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking," Swarbrick said. He said the perpetrators of the hoax “didn't limit themselves to Manti in the targets.”
Many have likened the situation to “catfishing,” a term used to describe a person who deliberately fakes an online persona to dupe someone. Moffitt says she hasn’t heard of that happening much but says it’s possible.
“These are people who may have deeper psychological issues that they would do this as a prank and that it gives them some kind of satisfaction in some kind of way. But there are people like this who exist not just online but in the real world,” she said.
She advises those who are dating online to do their own investigating of new people they meet, Googling their name to find out what they can, and to use as much common sense as they would in any other dating situation.