Was Manti Te’o REALLY fooled so easily? Journalist who exposed dead girlfriend hoax says ‚it takes a great deal of faith‘ to believe Notre Dame star was duped about fake lover for so long
- Notre Dame athletic director says Manti Te’o was the victim of cruel internet prank
- Football star says that the situation has been ‚painful and humiliating‘
- The death of Te’o’s girlfriend of leukemia last year has been revealed as completely false, as there is no woman by that name
- Woman pictured on ‚girlfriend‘ Twitter account revealed as California woman who doesn’t know Te’o
- She reportedly gave one of the photos to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is believed to be heavily involved in the scam
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The journalist who exposed the hoax behind Manti Teo’s alleged girlfriend dying of cancer said today that it would take a ‚great deal of faith‘ for someone to believe the Notre Dame star was fooled into thinking she existed for so long.
The tear-jerking story of the emerging football star who excelled on the field in spite of the death of his girlfriend and grandmother was revealed yesterday as an ‚elaborate hoax‘ and Te’o quickly came out to say he was the victim of ‚online predators‘.
But Timothy Burke, who co-wrote the Deadspin article with Jack Dickey, spoke to the TODAY show and said he finds it hard to believe the linebacker was duped for so long and did not know Lennay Kekua was not a real person.
‚It takes a great deal of faith if you’re going to believe that Manti Te’o actually spent an entire year with a girlfriend that he never met and that he never had any video chat with,‘ Burke said.
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Embattled: An investigation has found that Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o’s tragic story of a girlfriend who died of Leukemia last year is completely false
Deadspin writer: Timothy Burke spoke to the TODAY show and said he finds it hard to believe the linebacker was duped for so long and did not know Lennay Kekua was not a real person
‚It’s tough for me. I want to believe that Manti Te’o is a smart kid. Playing linebacker for the University of Notre Dame requires a certain amount of smarts, and it would take a pretty, I guess, clueless guy to fall for this for that long. I guess that’s where my skepticism lies.‘
In a press conference on Wednesday night, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that Manti Te’o was the victim of online predators who took advantage of the athlete’s generosity and kindness.
Swarbrick pointed to the documentary film Catfish and an MTV program of the same name in explaining how easy it can be to fool somebody into believing an online relationship is real.
The nation was captivated by the story of the Mormon star linebacker, who has been regarded as a future star of the NFL, who played an award-winning season despite personal tragedy.
In numerous published reports, Te’o said that while this past season has brought many triumphs to his life, there were also twin tragedies – the deaths of his 72-year-old grandmother and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, within a day of each other.
A comprehensive investigation found that while his grandmother did indeed die on September 12, 2012, Kekua did not – nor did she even exist.
Prank: Te’o came to his coaches on the day after Christmas, saying he had gotten a call from a number he knew to be Kekua saying, ‚I’m not dead‘
Swarbrick said that Te’o approached his coaches on December 26, saying that he had gotten a call from the number he knew to be Kekua’s – and a voice at the other end of the line said: ‚I’m not dead.‘
The school conducted its own investigation and found that Te’o had been taken for a ride by what Swarbrick calls a sophisticated hoax orchestrated by ‚a remarkable number of characters – both male and female‘.
He said: ‚It was real to Manti. There was no suspicion that it wasn’t. The pain was real, the grief was real, the affection was real – and that’s the nature of this sad cruel game.‘
Swarbrick added that Te’o himself will likely speak on Thursday.
‚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,‘ Te’o said in a statement.
‚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.‘
However, he stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had, though he did on numerous occasions talk about how special the relationship was to him.
When she was said to be sick in the hospital, T’e’o would phone her and stay on the line with her as they slept, waking up eight hours later to find her still breathing on the other line.
The hoax is still ongoing even after it was exposed with a tweet from Lenay Kay saying today: ‚A lot of truths and myths to be discussed here, and they will be at noon tomorrow‘
According to Sports Illustrated: ‚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.‘
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
28 November 2009: Kakua and Te’o are said to have met at a Stanford college game in Palo Alto
2010-2011: The couple are said to have met various times throughout this period, according to Te’o’s father Brian
10 October 2011: Te’o sends Kakua his first tweet saying ‚Nice to meet you too ma’am‘
Early 2012: ESPN says the two are an official couple and talk on the phone nightly
Around the same time, Kekua had her car accident in California
June 2012: Kekua is diagnosed with leukemia and has a bone marrow transplant
Throughout the summer her condition improves and she graduates
11-12 September 2012: Te’o’s grandmother Annette Santiago dies and he receives the news of Kakua’s death five hours later
15 September: Te’o records 12 tackles in leading the Irish to a win over Michigan
22 September: Kekua’s funeral takes place in California
That night Notre Dame beat Michigan and the game ball is awarded to Kekua
December 6: Manti Te’o finds out he is the victim of a hoax
26 December: Notre Dame coaches informed of the hoax
The hoax was so meticulous and carefully constructed that many wonder if Te’o himself was in on it.
He would appear on ESPN’s College Game Day to discuss the letters she had written to him during her illness and in turn send letters to parents of sick children to share his experiences.
‚To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating,‘ he said.
‚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.‘
And it seems the joke is far from over after someone tweeted from Lennay Kekua’s Twitter account late last night.
It said: ‚It isn’t fair to drag Reagan and Troy into this…a lot of truths and myths need to be addressed here, and they will be at noon PST tomorrow.‘
Among the evidence collected in Notre Dame’s independent investigation was ‚online chatter‘ that showed some people knew about the prank and were ‚taking joy in it,‘ Swarbrick said.
On the night of the BCS title game, one Twitter user, @jayRahz posted: ‚I wonder if the real Lennay Kekua is watching the game.. Cause I know the fake one that didn’t die is not watching over the Irish!‘
But despite the university’s claims, there is still substantial doubt that Te’o could have been fooled so easily – and for so long.
Agony of de-tweet: Some Twitter banter from last month suggested that the hoax was known by some
Revelations: Tweets suggest that the Lennay Kekua death hoax was known last month
Memories: A picture of Kekua was shown on CBS during an interview with Te’o, when he talked about her ‚death‘
The story goes that ‚Lennay‘ had tweeted Te’o after a college football game between Stanford (where she was a student) and Notre Dame in 2009.
THE ‚CATFISH‘ WHO KEEP OTHER PEOPLE ALIVE
Catfish is a 2010 documentary film about the deception of an online relationship.
It follows a guy who travels to meet a ‚woman‘ he fell in love with through Facebook only to find she is the invention of a middle-aged woman.
It was then turned into an MTV reality show which was first aired in November 2012 following the same premise of bringing people together who had only met online.
According to the initial documentary, when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish’s inactivity in their tanks resulted in mushy flesh, but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active.
People who make up online persona are known as catfish who keep other people alive.
It sparked a friendship, and over the next few years, Te’o would often tweet to a person with the Twitter handle LovaLovaLoveYOU – a name that was later changed to LennayKay and finally LoveMSMK.
On October 10, 2011, Te’o tweeted to lovalovaloveYOU: ‚Nice to meet you too ma’am.‘
The relationship progressed from there, with the football star and his ‚friend‘ becoming a couple sometime in January 2012, according to Deadspin.
But the relationship only existed online and by phone, and the two had never met face-to-face, Swarbrick said.
He added that they had plans to meet several times, including in Te’o’s native Hawaii, but she never showed up.
The courtship took a tragic turn when it was reported that Kekua was involved in a serious car accident in California sometime last year.
After recovering from the accident, she was apparently diagnosed with leukemia.
In September, the South Bend Tribune reported that his grandmother, Anette Santiago, had died. Hours later, he learned of Kekua’s death.
Defense: Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that Manti Te’o was the victim of online predators who took advantage of the athlete’s generosity and kindness
Talk: Te’o speaks to reporters before the BCS championship game in which the Fighting Irish fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide
Major isuzu media outlets, including the Associated Press, New York Times, the Tribune, Sports Illustrated and ESPN took the bait, and reported on the death of ‚Lennay Kekua‘.
Te’o did not attend Kekua’s funeral, insisting that she ‚made me promise that I would stay and play.‘
ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski, who had reported Kekua’s death for the network, said on Wednesday that he too found it odd that there was no obituary or death notice.
He said that when he brought his concerns up to Te’o, he was told to ‚back off,‘ .
Fake: The Twitter account of Lennay Kekua has been exposed as completely false and the woman pictured is from California and doesn’t know Te’o
Numerous online donations were pledged to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as her death resonated across the college football landscape.
More than $3,000 has been pledged in one IndieGogo campaign raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, according to Deadspin.
But the photos of Kekua on Twitter are actually of a California woman known only as ‚Reba‘ who told the sports website that she does not know Te’o and is alarmed that she has emerged as the dead woman’s face.
She did, however, reveal that one of the pictures posted to Lennay’s Twitter account was a photo she took of herself that she sent to a former high school classmate, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo at his request.
Tuiasosopo, 22, a former California student athlete and the son of a pastor, is revealed to be in on the hoax.
Tuiasosopo comes from a huge football family.
Involvement: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, is reportedly the person who asked a former high school classmate to provide a photo that was later used as Lennay Kekua
Standout: Manti T’eo won numerous awards for his play this year, which he said was all in spite of the death of his girlfriend and grandmother
His father Titus, now pastor at the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley, is a former USC football player himself.
An uncle, Navy Tuiasosopo, played three games with the Los Angeles Rams in 1987. Another uncle and cousins also played the game.
The connection between Tuiasosopo and Te’o is not clear, but they were acquaintances who exchanged birthday greetings and other pleasantries, according to Deadspin.
At Tuiasosopo’s home in Palmdale, California, a person who answered the door refused to comment.
Hoaxer? Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Te’o, is believed to be in on the scandal
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown : ‚On December 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.‘
It was claimed that Te’o came up short in the the Heisman trophy voting because the storied award favors offensive players.
But his impressive season was not without merit, as Te’o won each of the seven other awards he was nominated for, including the Butkus and Lombardi awards.
Te’o finished second in the Heisman voting, and leading Notre Dame to its first appearance in the BCS championship.
Te’o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on January 7.
He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, this week.
Four days ago Te’o posted on his Twitter account: ‚Can’t wait to start training with the guys! Workin to be the best! The grind continues! (hash)Future‘
Te’o’s mother did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
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