Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o used his heartbreak over his girlfriend’s death to fuel the fires of a Heisman Trophy bid — but it turns out he totally got Catfish-ed.
It was a heartbreaking yet inspirational tale of triumph over adversity: Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o lead the team to an astonishing victory shortly after learning of the deaths of both his beloved grandmother and his girlfriend. But as Deadspin discovered, not all was what it seemed in the “relationship.”
In a scene straight out of the movie Catfish, not only did Te’o’s girlfriend Lennay Kekua not die, she never actually existed. Turns out the photos posted of “Kekua” were stolen from the Facebook and Instagram accounts of an unsuspecting woman and the persona created by an old friend of the athlete.
“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 public 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.”
“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating… 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.”
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown told WSBT: “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.”
However, some are not so sure the hoax was simply a cruel joke. The death was a large part of Te’o’s unsuccessful campaign for a Heisman Trophy, and the player has been friends with the alleged conman, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, for years. A mutual friend told Deadspin he was “80 percent sure” Te’o was in on it.