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Manti Te`o Dead Girlfriend A Hoax?

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One of the most emotional story lines of the recently concluded College Football season involved Notre Dame linebacker Mante Te’o who, according to what we were told in September lost his Grandmother and his girlfriend within days of each other. He even ended up missing one of the Fighting Irish’s games that month in order to attend to funeral(s) and family business, we were told. Tonight, Deadspin is out with a story that asserts that at least part of that story is a complete lie:

Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, the stories said, played this season under a terrible burden. A Mormon linebacker who led his Catholic school’s football program back to glory, Te’o was whipsawed between personal tragedies along the way. In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te’o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.

Kekua, 22 years old, had been in a serious car accident in California, and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. SI‘s Pete Thamel described how Te’o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. “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,” Thamel wrote.

Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te’o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. It was heartbreaking and inspirational. Te’o would appear on ESPN’s College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. He would send a heartfelt letter to the parents of a sick child, discussing his experience with disease and grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing the young couple’s fairytale meeting—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto.

Did you enjoy the uplifiting story, the tale of a man who responded to adversity by becoming one of the top players of the game? If so, stop reading.

Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.

Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

It’s a long article that tells a bizarre story which, if true, raises a heck of a lot of questions about exactly what was going on with Te’o this year and why this myth of a dead girlfriend ended up becoming  such a huge story.

Deadspin concludes:

There was no Lennay Kekua. Lennay Kekua did not meet Manti Te’o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te’o in Hawaii. Lennay Kekua was not in a car accident. Lennay Kekua did not talk to Manti Te’o every night on the telephone. She was not diagnosed with cancer, did not spend time in the hospital, did not engage in a lengthy battle with leukemia. She never had a bone marrow transplant. She was not released from the hospital on Sept. 10, nor did Brian Te’o congratulate her for this over the telephone. She did not insist that Manti Te’o play in the Michigan State or Michigan games, and did not request he send white flowers to her funeral. Her favorite color was not white. Her brother, Koa, did not inform Manti Te’o that she was dead. Koa did not exist. Her funeral did not take place in Carson, Calif., and her casket was not closed at 9 a.m. exactly. She was not laid to rest.

Again, assuming this is true, the only question I have is why?

Update: Notre Dame has released an utterly bizarre statement that claims that Te’o was the victim of a hoax:

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. 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.

The only thing is that this doesn’t seem to be at all consistent with the reports in September that this woman, whoever she was, was T’e’o’s girlfriend.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    I was reading that article just seconds before coming here… man, that’s messed up. ND has put out a PR flak to say:

    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. 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 frankly, that statement makes no sense. Manti had family members talking about her as though they’d all known each other for years. Either he’s a master-level manipulator, or there were a _lot_ of people involved in keeping this fiction afloat…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. @legion:

    Yea that statement doesn’t really clear much of anything up given the fact that the stories that were put out at the time of this “girlfriends” “death” made it seem like the two of them had a long-term relationship.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. wr says:

    In other news, Fawn Leibowitz is dead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. Geek, Esq. says:

    He was cheating on her with his wife, Morgan Fairchild, yeah that’s the ticket.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. The Q says:

    Look, this was the same athletic department that changed the pronunciation of THEES – MAN to THIGHS MAN to increase Joe’s chance of winning the award.

    I am sure they knew this story would sell and bolster Mantei’s chances of winning the Heisman, so, like Lance Armstrong, there was no way to back out of it and it took on a life of its own.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. The Q says:

    Look, this was the same athletic department that changed the pronunciation of THEES – MAN to THIGHS MAN to increase Joe’s chance of winning the award.

    I am sure they knew this story would sell and bolster Mantei’s chances of winning the Heisman, so, like Lance Armstrong, there was no way to back out of it and it took on a life of its own.

    Now, they put out some lame press release to cover their backsides.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Franklin says:

    Very interesting. I’ll be interested to hear how Te’o had a girlfriend which he apparently never met.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Rick Almeida says:

    @Franklin:

    That’s the rub – he claimed to have met her a number of times before. I’m watching the ND press conference now, and when asked about exactly this, the AD said “We’re going to let Manti and his representation speak to that.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. mantis says:

    Catfish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Franklin says:

    @Rick Almeida: Thanks for the update. I’m still not working out exactly what happened (assuming Manti is not a big liar).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Anderson says:

    The real hoax was Notre Dame’s #1 ranking.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  12. superdestroyer says:

    The story is really an indictment of what is called “sport journalism.” Many of the mainsteam sources of sports reporting such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo sports, CBS Sports could have broken this story. Yet, is was a snarky website that bothered to put the legwork in to show that Manti Te’o was lying. But when ESPN, CBS, and NBC have an interest in the sellable product that is Notre Dame football, they will have zero interest in taking a real journalistic look at Notre Dame.

    What is amazing is that everyone who pays attention to sports know that Sports Departments at big time university lie all of the time. I have had to disprove the graduation rate claims of rapid alumni many times just by comparing the current roster of a team to the national signing day reports from four and five years ago. Yet, no sports journalist ever bothers to check the claims of a university.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  13. Rick Almeida says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Credit where it’s due, SD – that’s well said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  14. superdestroyer says:

    @Rick Almeida:

    I realized that sports information departments do not fact a couple of decades ago when a friend who wanted to be an athletic director showed me his collection of printed press guides *(there on line these days). I was amazed at the number of football players who claimed to be chemical engineering majors, how many athletes claimed to major in a program that did not exist at the university. If something so easy to check was wrong, I suspected that all of the claims of glory in high school and family situations were also lies.

    A couple of years ago, the NY Times wrote a story about how the football team were taking no show independent study classes http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/14/sports/ncaafootball/14auburn.html?pagewanted=all

    Of course, none of the media in Alabama could be bothered to verify what a public, tax dollar supported university was claiming.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. superdestroyer says:

    If anyone wants to see the value of legwork journalism, just look at deadspins page counter for the story on Te’o. In a normal day, Deadspin is lucky to get 50K views of any particular post. Yet, the Notre Dame story has received 2.6 million views in less than 24 hours.

    Maybe some other sports journalist will remember that the two youngest reporter to win Pulitzer prizes for journalism were writing on sports and that they were covering stories that the big boys looked the other way on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Franklin says:

    @superdestroyer: Good points, although I do question the accuracy of your method of using national signing day reports. That wouldn’t prove actual enrollment nor whether the athlete ever was actually on the team roster, plus it doesn’t deal with transfers in and out (which could be used to skew graduation rates in either direction, if one wanted to). I do *not* question your assertion that the Athletic Department probably uses any method of accounting that suits their purposes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Rafer Janders says:

    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.

    You know the really crazy part of this story? The person using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua — that turns out to have been Lance Armstrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Rafer Janders says:

    My guess? Either (a) he’s a fantasist, or (b) he’s gay.

    To my mind, (b) is pretty plausible — a Mormon football player at a Catholic school, operating his whole life in fairly homophobic environments, he might have thought that inventing a long-distance girlfriend would just make life easier for him. And then somehow, it spun out of control, and when people wondered why they’d never met his girlfriend he arranged an offstage “death” for her.

    Obviously no way of knowing if I’m right, this is purely baseless speculation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. CSK says:

    If you’re going to have an imaginary girlfriend, it’s probably wisest not to invent a name and history for her. Just say she’s a very private person and doesn’t want her identity revealed. When you elaborate on a lie, you lose control of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Facebones says:

    @Rafer Janders: Yeah, that was my first impression. Especially since the alleged “hoaxer” (according to the Deadspin article) is a friend of Teo’s who also suffered a car crash around the same time the fictional girlfriend did. It’s plausible to me that this was a beard story by two very religious men that got out of control as the Notre Dame season went on and they had to keep elaborating on it. I don’t think top level college football at a religious college is the most gay friendly atmosphere.

    Combine the dead girlfriend story with the Great Notre Dame Mythmaking Machine and things can sin out of control quickly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. bk says:

    (paraphrasing another blogger): The sad thing is that in the 36 hours since this was revealed, we have heard far more about an imaginary dead girlfriend than a real dead girl (Lizzie Seeburg).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Mike says:

    Who is going to break it to him that there is no Santa Claus

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Reminds me of Avenue Q:

    “She couldn’t be sweeter, I wish you could meet her, my girlfriend who lives in Canada…”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. grumpy realist says:

    No matter how you slice it, this one hits the bizarre-o-meter all the way around.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @Facebones:

    There have been reports that several of his teammates suspected the story because Te’o had been dating several women on campus. I doubt if it was a beard situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Franklin says:

    @Facebones: Combine the dead girlfriend story with the Great Notre Dame Mythmaking Machine and things can sin out of control quickly.

    Intentional slip? Good one!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    But when ESPN, CBS, and NBC have an interest in the sellable product that is Notre Dame football, they will have zero interest in taking a real journalistic look at Notre Dame.

    Exactly right. Everyone in (what passes for) sports journalism wanted this story to be true, it had everything: Notre Dame (Knute Rockne, Gold dome, touchdown Jesus, Rudy) and this year’s possible Heisman Trophy winner.

    I personally think it’s a hoax that Manti and friends concocted and it spun out of their control. That Notre Dame is now a party to the idiocy is … well … couldn’t happen to a better bunch of overhyped greaseballs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. superdestroyer says:

    What is interesting is that Katie Couric is going to interview TE’O http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/katie-couric-to-interview-manti-teo/even though Couric and Te’o use the same publicist. http://deadspin.com/5977474/why-katie-courics-manti-teo-interview-will-suck

    During an interview with Tom Scocca, the managing editor at Deadspin, on MSNBC, Scocca stated that Deadspin could only give Te’o a couple of hours between asking for comment and publishing the story to keep Te’o from running to a friendly interviewer and spinning the story. Now it seems that Deadspin was correct in what Te’o would do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0