Te’o’s love story hoax raises questions all around
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 17, 2013 21:01
College football fan or not, everybody now knows the name Manti Te’o.
The Notre Dame linebacker’s story was both tragic and inspiring. In the span of one week, Te’o lost both his grandmother to natural causes and his girlfriend Lennay Kekua to leukemia. Upon receiving the news, Te’o took the field and led his team to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. He missed Kekua’s funeral because he promised her he would never miss a game. He told reporters she was the love of his life and he would join her and his grandmother again someday. Tragic, beautiful and inspiring.
Except part of the story wasn’t real. There’s no record that Lennay Kekua even exists.
Don’t be confused – this is not the plot summary of an episode of Catfish. It is a very elaborate hoax by someone who, if the allegations hold true, probably thought he would never get caught. What was once a heartbreaking love story and a tale of overcoming adversity is now a public debacle. In September, Te’o suffered a very public loss that ended up being very fake. Now he has to deal with reality.
The hoax is not just a mess for Te’o, though. People know Lennay Kekua because she has been written about. There are articles with anecdotes involving her, broadcasts with her picture and quotes in them and interviews with Te’o where he has discussed her.
Outside of Deadspin, the organization that had been investigating and broke the story on Wednesday, the Te’o/Kekua love story didn’t throw up any alarms. No one seemed to notice four news organizations listed different dates for her death (the Sept. 22 issue of South Bend Tribune has it as Sept. 11, 2012, while a later issue had it on Sept. 12. New York Post has it three days after the death of Te’o’s grandmother; ESPN and CBS have it four days later). No one seemed concerned that a Sports Illustrated interview with Te’o back in September seemed to have gaps and missing details.
This story should change journalism. Each source borrowed from another, each believing (and having no reason to doubt) that Lennay Kekua existed. Each organization reported on every detail – the car crash, the cancer diagnosis, the death. They printed and reprinted, and no one bothered to get quotes from her or contact her family. If Te’o said she was real, she was real.
Te’o and Kekua’s “first” meeting was not at Stanford in 2009, because they had another “first” meeting on Twitter in 2011. Te’o told officials at Notre Dame last month he never met Kekua, contrary to a story written about the pair in the South Bend Tribune that stated “their stares got pleasantly tangled.”
CBS This Morning ran a story with a quote from Kekua as well as her photo after her death, which ended up being a Facebook picture from an anonymous woman living in California. That photo was taken by a classmate of the woman and a friend of Te’o, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. There are no accident or medical records for Kekua and no record of her at Stanford University, where Te’o said she had graduated from and where they “met.”
There’s, of course, a lot of speculation about Manti Te’o’s motive. A common conversation is one that has revolved around the possibility of Te’o actually being in a relationship with Tuiasosopo. According to Deadspin, Tuiasosopo was in a car crash a couple months before Kekua allegedly was in one with a drunk driver.
Is Lennay Kekua actually Tuiasosopo, who Deadspin accuses of making the fake account? It would make sense for Te’o – a religious student at a Catholic school who brings God into every interview and a football star trying to break his way into the NFL – to hide it, even in such a ridiculous way.
Others have accused him of publicity to generate Heisman Trophy discussion, but why go back all the way to 2009, where their alleged first encounter at Stanford was? Was this all an attempt for the expected first-round pick to get his draft stock up?
There is a lot we still don’t know, especially as he continues to remain silent on the allegations, and we can’t pass full judgment on him without knowing the full story. But whatever happened here, Te’o brought it upon himself.