Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o says he lied because he ‘was scared’
Manti Te’o admitted he misled the public by continuing to refer to his “dead” girlfriend after the woman he thought he was having a relationship with called to tell him she was alive.
The Notre Dame linebacker told Katie Couric during his first on-camera interview that aired Thursday that he didn’t know how else to handle what he claims was an elaborate hoax he was still struggling to comprehend.
“Part of me was saying, ‘If you say she’s alive, what would everybody think? What are you going to tell everybody who follows you and who you’ve inspired? What are you going to say?’ ” Te’o told Couric. “At that time, on Dec. 8, two days after I found out she’s alive, as a 21-year-old, I wasn’t ready for that. I hadn’t even told my parents yet. I hadn’t told anyone. The only person who knew was me, and I did not know who to turn to. I did not know who to trust. It was a big thing for me. I was scared. That’s the truth. I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Couric played voicemails Te’o believed to be from girlfriend Lennay Kekua but might have been from Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. The New York Daily News also reported that Tuiasosopo played the role of Kekua during hundreds of phone conversations with Te’o.
Couric displayed a copy of a Twitter direct message Tuiasosopo purportedly sent to Te’o accepting responsibility for the hoax. Te’o said Tuiasosopo later called him and apologized personally.
“What I went through was real. The feeling, the pain, the sorrow, that was all real,” Te’o said. “That’s something I can’t fake.”
But Te’o failed to fully explain why he told a Sports Illustrated reporter that Tuiasosopo was his cousin.
When Couric asked Te’o if he was gay, the Heisman Trophy finalist responded immediately: “No. Far from it. Far from that.”
“For people feeling they were misled, that I’m sorry for,” Te’o said. “I wasn’t as forthcoming about it, but I didn’t lie. I never was asked, ‘Did you see her in person?’ Through the embarrassment and fear of what people might think that I was committed to this person who I didn’t meet but who all of a sudden died, that scared me. To avoid any further conversation, I wasn’t as forthcoming as I should’ve been.”
Te’o said he tried to meet with Kekua numerous times, but she always came up with last-minute excuses he found plausible. He also said his suspicions prompted him to reach out to acquaintances via Facebook who confirmed she was real.
What hurt Te’o most, he said, was the pain inflicted on parents Brian and Ottilia and the rest of his family.
“The deception wasn’t only with Manti, it was our entire family,” Ottilia said. ‘‘We had conversations with this person. In our mind, we had followed the same pattern as Manti.”