Notre Dame's linebacker Manti Te'o's inspirational story of overcoming the death of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day last fall -- leading the Fighting Irish to an undefeated season -- was a hoax.
Deadspin released the shocking report Wednesday, Jan. 16 that the 21-year-old Hawaiian native's late girlfriend, Lennay Marie Kekua, never existed. While there is a Social Security Administration record of his grandmother Annette Santiago's death on Sept. 11, 2012, there is not a record of the death of Kekua, who was said to be a 22-year-old Stanford University student who died of leukemia.
Te'o released a statement to ESPN Wednesday regarding the reports. "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," the Heisman finalist said. "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," he continued. "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."
Notre Dame Assistant Vice President Dennis Brown also issued a statement in response to the shocking revelation. "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," he said. "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."
But many reports speculate that Te'o was in on the hoax. Timothy Burke, co-author of the Deadspin article, told CNN, "Te'o's story that he is completely innocent in this does not really ring true to us."