The unfolding story of Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o and his non-existent girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, has lit fires across media outlets. Sports, news, entertainment — all formats are ablaze with speculation and disbelief.
If you’re not yet familiar with the background on the story, it first became big news in early September when reports broke that Te’o lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend on the same day. He went on to play that week. After the game, Manti Te’o spoke with ABC Sports about the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend.
“They were with me. So, I couldn’t do it without them,” said Te’o of his girlfriend and grandmother during the interview.
“I couldn’t do it without the support of my family and my girlfriend’s family. I’m so grateful for all the love and support that all the fans, both Michigan State and Notre Dame, and fans around the world for supporting me and my family and my girlfriend’s family. I miss them. I miss them. But I know that I’ll see them again one day.”
The NCAA’s “Defensive Player of the Year also played the next week, on the day that his girlfriend was allegedly buried (in a city that does not exist – but was reported in the New Times and other media outlets).
Deadspin’s investigative work built a timeline that makes you question what the real story is here. There were reports that Manti and the non-existent woman met in 2009, and his father told newspapers that the Notre Dame star and Lennay Kekua met in Hawaii at times in 2010 and 2011. And then there were the stories of the serious car crash, the discovery of Lennay’s leukemia, and ultimately her death. Apparently, none of it true.
Could Manti Te’o and his father have been involved or complicit in this deception? Is it possible that Notre Dame was also aware of the lack of truth in this story that had become a national heart-tugger? It might be argued that the emotional component of Te’o's story could bring more attention to his bid to win the Heisman Trophy. Both Notre Dame and Manti Te’o would benefit from winning football’s most prestigious individual honor.
There are also stories of false Facebook and Twitter accounts. Messages sent that were then deleted. Tweets that seemed to support the story and are now gone. Even a report of a phone call to Manti Te’o that he claims came from Lennay’s cel phone after her reported death.
The details, motives, and timelines are still being debated and speculated about. Many are wondering if Manti Te’o was actually involved in the scam or was just a victim of something called “Catfishing?”
What’s “catfishing?” UrbanDictionary offers some street-smart clarity.
How widespread is this kind of hoax? In 2010 there was a documentary on it:
It’s big enough for Dr. Phil to dedicate an entire show to it:
And its popular enough for MTV to create a show around the trend:
There certainly are questions raised by the large time gap between the moment Notre Dame’s officials knew that the story about Manti’s girlfriend was untrue and when they came forward with it. Manti Te’o maintains that he was a victim of a hoax.
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