After days of speculation about his fake relationship with his “deceased girlfriend” (read: nonexistent) Lennay Kekua, Manti Te’o has explained his side of the story in an extensive interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp. “I wasn’t faking it. I wasn’t part of
this,” Te’o says, insisting that he was the victim of an ongoing online hoax similar to the ones documented on MTV’s “Catfish.”
Te’o explains that he was duped into believing that Kekua was real, and that he spent hours on the phone with “her,” but never met her in person.
He admits to lying to his family, coach, and the media about meeting her face-to-face, because he thought they’d think he was “crazy” for carrying on an intense relationship with someone he’d never met. Te’o maintains that two males and one female created an elaborate hoax and that he wasn’t involved.
The full ESPN transcript is available here, but we’ve pulled some of the most fascinating quotes from the interview.
On his first interactions with Lennay: “She friend requested me on Facebook
the winter of my freshman year at Notre Dame. And I introduced
myself through message via Facebook. I just — simple, I’m Manti.
I saw you friend requested me, feel free to talk. Just simple, general
introductions. And we just got to know each other just as acquaintances.
It was nothing big, nothing spectacular, nothing greater than that … We spoke on the phone. We spoke on the phone and
talked on the phone, texted. But it’s always as acquaintances, as
friends. And then she contacted me that Purdue game and she just
said ‘Hey, how are you doing? I’m going through some hard times
with my boyfriend’ — at the time she had a boyfriend at the time.
And just want you to be there for me, just be my friend. I said
sure, I’ll be here for you.”
On Lennay’s “car accident” and “coma”: “I would ask to talk to her, and
the only communication I had was through Kainoa, her brother, and he
used her phone. And he would put me supposedly right next to her
mouth and I could hear the ventilator going. And she would be
breathing. And she would quick — they said every time I was on
the phone, they would tell me the nurse noticed that whoever was
on the phone with her, she must have recognized the voice, because
she would start breathing quicker and I could hear on the phone … I was actually on the phone when she actually got out of the coma. She
was breathing as normal as I’m talking to a person breathing. On that
phone call, all she utters is ‘Manti.’ I’m back at home at the time for
summer break. And she utters ‘Manti.’ So I’m sitting there, like, by
the way, hello, And she says “Manti, Manti’ in a faint voice. That’s when
she wakes up.”
On losing his grandmother and “Lennay” the same day: “Mom and dad call me the morning of September
12, and tell me that grandma passed away … later that day I get a text message from
her brother, just saying ‘Bro. That was it.’ I wondered why her brother
was contacting me. Couple minutes later, I get the call from her brother
Kekua, the oldest. He’s telling me, he’s crying, screaming, and he’s just telling me,
“She’s gone! She’s gone!” He’s mumbling, “She’s gone, she’s gone, bro’,
And I’m sitting there wondering who is gone? Why is he telling me that
somebody’s gone. Lennay’s supposed to get home on September 11th, the
day before. She was fine, you know? She was going home, she was fine.
People were saying that she’s getting better. I get a
phone call that she’s gone. They tell me Lennay’s gone.”
On telling his parents they had met face-to-face: “That’s on me. A child’s biggest goal is to get the approval of his or her parent … So we ended up not meeting.
So when I got home, dad asked, hey, did you get to see her?
And to avoid all the questions, I just said ‘yeah, dad, I saw her.’ … I knew that dad would probably be suspicious of
it. And by him being suspicious of it, I didn’t want to risk the
chance of me telling dad that I didn’t meet her.”
On lying to family, friends, and the media about meeting face-to-face: “I even knew that it was crazy that I was with
somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone people find out that
this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her
as well. So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think
that, yeah, he met her before she passed away. So people
wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude … Out of this whole thing, that is my
biggest regret. And that is the biggest, I think, that’s from my point of view, that is a mistake I made.”
On not attending her “funeral”: “Leading up
to the funeral, her siblings kept telling me that their mom told
them she didn’t want me to come. They didn’t want — and I
didn’t want myself — I didn’t want that to be the first time
that I saw her was lying in a coffin. That’s why I didn’t go … I sent them two dozen white roses, and my
parents sent a little gift themselves … To their supposed house where Lennay stayed.
21503, Water Street, Carson, California … I heard that it’s foreclosed … they sent me a
picture of the roses of them getting it. They sent a picture of
the roses — the flowers that my parents sent, they sent it to
my parents. As proof that they got it.”
Tuiasosopo, who is believed to have masterminded the hoax and invented Lennay: “To be honest with you, it doesn’t seem real. I hope
he learns. I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an
ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think
embarrassment is big enough.”