Manti Te’o decides it’s time to talk
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org January 18, 2013 11:25PM
Updated: January 19, 2013 12:32AM
Not only has Manti Te’o spoken, but the Notre Dame linebacker denied any involvement in the unfolding scandal that has rocked the college football world in his first interview.
In a late-night, off-camera interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, the Notre Dame linebacker maintained he was duped into an online relationship with a woman he considered to be his girlfriend but it turned out to be an elaborate hoax.
“I wasn’t faking it,” Te’o told Schaap. “I’m not part of this.”
According to Schaap, Te’o said he spent hours on the phone speaking to a woman he thought was his girlfriend and was not fully convinced that Lennay Kekua did not exist until three days ago. The Heisman Trophy finalist also admitted he suggested to friends and family that he had in fact met Kekua face-to-face when that was not the case because he feared it would seem too outrageous if he had not.
Te’o also told Schaap that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged mastermind behind the hoax, called him three days ago and admitted he was the mastermind.
The hastily arranged, 2½-hour interview came hours after Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick urged Te’o to tell his side of the story.
“I don’t have any specific knowledge as to how and when, but I can’t fathom a circumstance where it doesn’t,” Swarbrick said of Te’o coming forward during his weekly podcast. “I sort of share everybody’s view that it has to happen. We are certainly encouraging it to happen. We think it’s important and we’d like to see it happen sooner rather than later.”
Te’o told Notre Dame officials he received an incoming call from a number he recognized as Kekua’s on Dec. 6. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, citing a source close to Te’o’s family, she told Te’o she had faked her own death to elude drug dealers. The woman then attempted to re-establish her relationship with Te’o, who asked for a dated photo for verification before calling school officials.
At the Heisman Trophy ceremony Dec. 8, Te’o still maintained the girlfriend died of cancer .
“Me, I don’t like cancer at all,” Te’o said. “I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.”
Tuiasosopo, meanwhile, admitted to a friend that he was responsible for duping the Heisman Trophy finalist, according to ESPN.
That friend agreed to be interviewed on “Outside the Lines” only if she was not identified because she feared for her family’s safety in the wake of an avalanche of publicity.
The woman said Tuiasosopo admitted during a recent conversation the role he played in what started out as a prank. The woman said his tearful confession included Tuiasosopo claiming Te’o was unaware of the deception and that Tuiasosopo had been involved with similar hoaxes in the past.
“Outside the Lines” interviewed two others who claim a cousin had the same hoax pulled on them by Tuiasosopo.
“He [Ronaiah] told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. …,” the woman told ESPN. “The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie. He was crying, he was literally crying, he’s like ‘I know, I know what I have to do.’ It was not only Manti, but he was telling me that it’s a lot of people they had done this to.”
The woman said she spoke with Tuiasosopo on Wednesday when news of the hoax was making national headlines. She said she worries about what Tuiasosopo might do to himself when the truth about his role became known.
Swarbrick said the family planned to go public two days before Deadspin.com broke the story Wednesday.
Swarbrick, a former attorney, said he remains convinced Te’o is innocent of any wrongdoing, but he said he understood why many are skeptical of a story that in many ways defines logic.
“They have every right to say that,” Swarbrick said. “Now, I have some more information than they have. But they have every right to say that. I don’t feel any sort of ill will toward that position.’’