It was a story that moved the sports world. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o playing under the burden of grief due to the deaths of his grandmother to cancer and girlfriend to leukemia on the same day. The story goes that after learning of the deaths, Te’o took to the field and led the Fighting Irish to victory over Michigan state and, eventually, an undefeated season
It didn’t stop there, as Te’o became the big story of the college football season. The linebacker was featured on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and was thrust into contention for the Heisman trophy.
However, if an extensive investigation by Deadspin is to be believed, Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s deceased girlfriend, is merely a figment of his imagination. While he did lose his grandmother last year, no one can find a trace of his girlfriend’s death or her life for that matter.
Photos of Kekua broadcast on a variety of news programs throughout the season actually belong to a woman Deadspin refers to as “Reba.” She’s never met Te’o or contacted him over the internet, but she claims all of the photos, except for one, are from her private Facebook account. The photo not from Facebook was one she never released online, but rather sent to an old high school acquaintance.
That acquaintance is believed to be the person who created “Lennay Kekua.” While it is not known how that “acquaintance,” Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, met Te’o, the two did Tweet each other on numerous occasions. According to a friend of Tuiasosopo, the death of Kekua was a grab at publicity.
Te’o has remained out of the public eye since Notre Dame lost the BCS National.
Update: Notre Dame has released an official statement saying that Te’o and his family approached school officials on December 26, claiming to be the victim of a hoax by someone who created the fake name Lennay Krekua. The full text of the statement can be read here.
Te’o also released a statement Wednesday saying the entire situation is “incredibly embarrassing” and admitting he, “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.” ESPN has the full statement