Report: Death of Notre Dame LB Manti Teo’s Girlfriend Was Hoax
I don’t even know what to think about this story. It is now being reported that Manti Te’o, Notre Dame LB and Heisman Trophy Finalist, invented a story about having a cancer-stricken girlfriend who died during the season for publicity purposes. From Deadspin:
Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, the stories said, played this season under a terrible burden. A Mormon linebacker who led his Catholic school’s football program back to glory, Te’o was whipsawed between personal tragedies along the way. In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te’o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.
Kekua, 22 years old, had been in a serious car accident in California, and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. SI‘s Pete Thamel described how Te’o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. “Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice,” Thamel wrote.
Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te’o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. It was heartbreaking and inspirational. Te’o would appear on ESPN’s College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. He would send a heartfelt letter to the parents of a sick child, discussing his experience with disease and grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing the young couple’s fairytale meeting—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto.
That was the part of the story we all heard. Now here is where it falls apart:
Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.
I don’t even know what to say. Just unbelievable.
It sure seems like Deadspin has all their ducks in a row here. If they do, and I’m an NFL GM? I’d have do some serious digging into Te’o before I let him anywhere near my team. It’s also important to note that it likely won’t just be Te’o that will face some serious heat over this. I would find it hard to believe that he was able to perpetrate a fraud like this without the help of some other people. If all this turns out to be true? Anyone involved should not only be be completely ostracized from the football world, but from society in general.
UPDATE: Notre Dame has released a statement stating that it was Te’o who was a victim of hoax. You can read it here.
I don’t know if I buy that explanation. I mean, there’s a video of Brian Kelly giving Te’o a game ball in honor of this girl. There has to be some more details coming out about this soon. I think that’s when we’ll be able to determine what was really going on here.
UPDATE 2: Something isn’t right with the story Notre Dame and Manti Te’o are going with here. Notre Dame says they were told of the hoax by Manti Te’o and his family on December 26th. There’s just one problem: A January 3rd exchange at an Orange Bowl press conference where he was asked about his girlfriend’s death:
Q. Manti, how have the football-related commotion and excitement of the past year helped you get
through the turmoil you’ve faced with your grandmother and girlfriend? And how have the quiet periods
been for you, given you more time to reflect? Is that a good thing or double edged?
MANTI TE’O: I think whenever you’re in football, it takes your mind off a lot of things. You know, this team
is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I
rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, do you want to go to the
movies. Coach is always calling me asking me, “Are you okay? Do you need anything?” I have three roommates,
Zeke, Carlo and Robby Toma, who are always yelling at each other, who’s going to play Call of Duty. I’m rarely by
myself, and that’s how I like it. I’m always around my guys, always around my family.
Maybe he was told to just keep it all quiet so it wouldn’t be a distraction for the team? Or maybe he was still being deceitful All I know is that his answer sounds like he was still in fraud mode to me.