The Manti Te’o mystery isn’t getting much clearer.
After the Notre Dame linebacker’s tragic, heartwarming story about playing through the death of his girlfriend was revealed to be an elaborate hoax, Te’o — and the university — insisted he had been the victim of a cruel prank.
Te’o and Notre Dame said the star player learned on Dec. 6 that “Lennay Kekua” was not real — but that’s odd, because Te’o talked about publicly at least twice after the fact.
“I don’t like cancer at all. I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer,” Te’o told reporters before the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City on Dec. 8.
Then in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 9, Te’o said of the decision to play a game days after Lennay Kekua supposedly died: “She made me promise, when it happened, that I would stay and play.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick cast Te’o as having been tricked into an online romance with a woman using a fake name, and then being fooled into believing she had died of leukemia the same day his grandmother — really — died in September. Te’o became a campus hero for leading Notre Dame to its best season in decades after battling back from the devastating dual losses, even coming in second for the Heisman.
Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday that some Notre Dame administrators actually pushed for a public disclosure last week, but were pressed by Te’o’s agent to hold off until Monday so the linebacker could “release his version of events.” That didn’t happen, and the story broke on Deadspin.com Wednesday.
Deadspin.com also cast serious doubt on the idea of Te’o as a victim, speaking with sources who attested to Te’o’s closeness with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man believed to have posed online as Lennay Kekua. A woman who was Facebook friends with Tuiasosopo told Deadspin, “Manti and Ronaiah are family, or at least family friends,” while another friend of Tuiasosopo’s said he was “80 percent sure” Te’o was “in on it” and said the two had schemed to create Kekua’s death for publicity.
Also strange is how Te’o’s father, Brian Te’o, apparently told a newspaper Lennay Kekua used to visit his son at home in Hawaii.
In another tidbit, Tuiasosopo once auditioned for NBC’s “The Voice” and told a “sob story” about getting into a “massive” car accident — much like Kekua supposedly did before dying of leukemia.
“He had this insane sob story before [he sang],” a source told Us Weekly. “It would make for great TV.”
Meanwhile, the real woman whose photo was used as the face of Lennay Kekua was identified as 23-year-old Diane O’Meara, a marketing professional from Los Angeles, and a former classmate of a friend of Te’o’s, according to UPI. She declined to comment to “Inside Edition” cameras on Thursday.
Te’o issued a statement Wednesday night saying he had been the victim of the hoax, but has otherwise remained silent and mostly out of sight. Notre Dame student body president Brett Rocheleau told the AP on Thursday the majority of students are standing by him, but want to hear what he has to say.
“Whenever Manti decides to speak I’ll bet the entire campus will stop what they’re doing and watch what he has to say,” Rocheleau said “I think the majority of students believe in Manti. They just want to hear him answer these final few questions and hear the story from his point of view.”