Manti Te’o became the first college football linebacker in recent memory to have a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman for two reasons. One, he was the star and clear leader of the best non-SEC defense around. Two, he had an inspirational and heart wrenching story that moved everyone and anyone who heard it.
Te’o’s popularity reached its peak this past September when he absolutely destroyed Michigan State in a 20-3 Notre Dame victory. While his stats from that outing (12 tackles, fumble recovery) were impressive, what really captivated people was that he did what he did shortly after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend. Te’o’s ability to persevere and overcome the hardships that came his way turned him into an instant icon.
Unfortunately, it was all built on a lie. According to a stunning Deadspin exposé, while Te’o’s grandmother really did die prior to the Michigan State game, the entire story about him losing his girlfriend was all just an elaborate hoax that the Notre Dame Heisman finalist may or may not have been in on.
Shortly after the Deadspin piece went public, Notre Dame released this hastily prepared statement:
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On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.
University Spokesman | Assistant Vice President
The idea that Te’o was an unwitting victim of a hoax is unlikely, but feasible. What is a bit unclear, though, is why Notre Dame waited until now to make available information they obtained at the end of December.
Mind you, this is a school that has something of a history when it comes to sweeping troubling PR problems under the rug.
Stay tuned, the truth will likely come out over the next few days.
Update: A statement from the man of the hour...
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
"It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.
"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.
"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."