SOUTH BEND, Ind. — One of the best feel-good stories of 2012 has now become one of the most bizarre stories of 2013.
Notre Dame Linebacker Manti’ Te’o's girlfriend, once thought dead, actually doesn’t exist.
Te’o began to become the focus of some serious attention after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish upset the Michigan State Spartans 20-to-3 in East Lansing on Sept. 15, 2012. Part of the reason for the attention was because prior to the game Te’o was informed that his grandmother had passed away. Te’o would then tell reporters that six hours after the news of his grandmother’s death, he had learned that his 22-year old girlfriend had also died after a long battle with leukemia.
Several local and national media outlets began doing feature stories on Te’o and the incredible adversity he had to overcome with the loss of two loved ones in less a matter of hours.
However, sports website Deadspin.com reported that Te’o's reported girlfriend, Leenay Kekua never existed. Notre Dame would confirm that Te’o's girlfriend was made up and said Te’o had been duped.
“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,” said Notre Dame Assistant Vice President Dennis Brown in the statement. ”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.”
Te’o would also claim that he was the victim of a hoax in a statement of his own.
“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,” said Te’o in his 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.”
Te’o finished his senior season at Notre Dame winning several significant honors. He won the Maxwell and the Walter Camp National Player of the Year awards along with Nagurski and Bednarik Awards. He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting.