It was instant sporting legend: Manti Te’o’s herculean performance on the football field following the twin tragedies of his grandmother and girlfriend dying within days of one another vaulted him to national prominence. Already a star within the college football world, his tragedy-steeled triumphs pushed him to a new and more rarified stratum of cultural interest. As the best player on the best Notre Dame team in a quarter century, the senior linebacker and devout Mormon was, for all appearances, a squeaky-clean, old-school hero and role model.
But as the online news outlet Deadspin later reported, the girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed, and the relationship about which he spoke so movingly was, in fact, solely conducted online and over the telephone. The story is as quixotic as it is complex: Why did Te’o fail to disclose he never met the Kekua face-to-face? How was he able to speak so convincingly of meeting this non-existent girlfriend, and of the depth of their connection? Why didn’t any of the media covering Te’o’s reports of her death find out he had never met her in person? Was Te’o really deceived, or was he somehow complicit in growing the story of his tragedy-enhanced football legend? Why would a person or people endeavor to callously toy with, and ultimately punk, someone as apparently innocent as Te’o?
David Wharton, LA Times Sportswriter. He spoke to Te’o and Te’o’s roommate about the fake girlfriend in November while covering a Notre Dame practice prior to the USC/Notre Dame game on November 23rd, 2012.
Aisha Harris, writer for Slate Magazine