It’s interesting to me how some of my friends think this is a giant yawn of a scandal and others are hanging on every twist. If you’re in group one, no need to read further. If you’re in group two, click the image below and watch. Is this the smoking gun? The detail that he found out about the hoax on December 6 comes from Notre Dame itself, so there’s no question he’s covering up the truth here. But is that because he was shellshocked after discovering he’d been duped and not ready to break the news to the public yet? (He didn’t tell Notre Dame until December 26.) Or is it because the whole thing’s a lie he concocted and he was still shoveling BS on December 8? One thing I can’t get over about the clip is how gratuitous the reference to his girlfriend is. He could have said something about cancer without mentioning her, but he did it anyway even though he knew at this point that she hadn’t died at all, let alone died of cancer. He started lying at some point. When? In December, or years ago?
To make this even odder, there’s a sort of hoax within a hoax here. Supposedly, people who know Te’o thought Kekua was real but also thought that he was exaggerating the extent of his relationship with her. From College Spun:
Yet, even before the Michigan State game, Manti Te’o was being questioned by his teammates. Apparently Manti had only “seen” Lennay once — but I assume “seen” was a rather loose term used for “chatted with online” (however, this is extremely complicated to understand since they were reportedly talking since 2009, according to the Te’o family). The debate among teammates wasn’t whether or not Manti actually knew this girl — it was clear that they had been in contact; no, players just didn’t think that it was fair to call Lennay Kekua Manti’s girlfriend, period (it is well-known on campus that he has had relations with other girls during his time at Notre Dame). They recognized what was going on for what it was — a terrible publicity stunt used to fuel Manti Te’o’s Heisman campaign. In fact, many of the players privately commented that they didn’t want the students to wear leis in support of Manti and wouldn’t participate themselves — they cited that the team never responded so publicly to tragic events for other players. But there was also the feeling that Manti didn’t deserve to benefit from publicity from the death of somebody he barely knew.
Similar stuff from ESPN:
While not saying that Manti Te’o participated in or knew about the hoax that his girlfriend did not exist, a former teammate told ESPN’s Bob Holtzman on Wednesday that players knew the woman wasn’t really his girlfriend even though Te’o played that up as his tragic story was being told.
In September, the grandmother of Te’o died, and it was widely reported that his girlfriend died hours later. Media outlets pounced on the story as Notre Dame began its march to the title game. After Deadspin.com broke the hoax story, however, multiple media reports have said players thought that Te’o had only met Lennay Kekua once and that it wasn’t really accurate to call her his girlfriend. But as condolences poured in, Te’o “played along,” according to the teammate, who wished to remain anonymous.
The teammate portrayed the move as part of the All-American’s personality, telling ESPN that Te’o liked attention so much that he would sometimes point himself out to friends when he was on television.
So in theory, Te’o might have believed that Kekua was a real person but wildly exaggerated how close they were in order to squeeze some sympathy from her death. And I do mean wildly: Sports Illustrated published the transcript today of an interview with Te’o they conducted on September 23, just 11 days after Kekua supposedly died. Here’s how emotionally intimate the relationship was, according to the man himself:
SI: You would literally sleep with your phone on with her on it?
TE’O: With her on it.
SI: When you woke up?
TE’O: She’s be on it.
SI: What would the phone say?
TE’O: Like eight hours. Lucky she had AT&T so it was all free or my family would kill me.
Eight-hour phone calls, just so that she could hear him breathe. With a girl he never actually met. More:
SI: She couldn’t communicate?
TE’O: No. She could only breathe. One of the miraculous things was when I talked to her and she would hear my voice her breathing would pick up. Like quickly, and then she would start crying. But her breathing would quicken, and she would start crying. So her brother was in the room with the nurse. They were monitoring her. She said, “Who is she on the phone with?” Her boyfriend. She was like, “That’s amazing. She doesn’t do that with anybody else.” So that happened. And then she flatlined and we were losing her.
The day I went home, that was the day they were going to pull it. They were saying their goodbyes and all that. I said, “Babe, I’m never going to say goodbye to you. If you really want to go, she really missed her dad, so I said, “If you want to go, be with dad, go. Just know that I love you very, very much.” I had this very positive feeling that everything was going to be OK. I landed in Hawaii. By the time I said my goodbyes. Not my goodbyes, my I love you, I’ll see you later, that kind of thing, I jumped on the airplane to go to Hawaii. They were scheduled to pull the plug while I was in the air.
So right when I landed, I was expecting to get a voicemail saying she’s gone. So I landed and I had a voicemail from her brother saying, “Brother, call me back right now.” So you can imagine what’s going through my head. I was like, “What am I going to do? How am I going to take this?'”And so I called him back, the doctor came in and he saw something and he wants to try some treatment on her to see if it works. From there she slowly started to get better. Slowly. Eventually she came out of her coma and she started having memory problems and she couldn’t remember because of the accident. That’s how much damage she had to her frontal lobe. She had memory problems. I was actually the first person that she talked to. She was breathing, breathing. When I talked to her, I would say, “Babe, do you know who this is?” I knew she knew who it was because her breathing would pick up. I was like, “Relax, chill. Breathe slowly. Breathe slowly.” And then, that was when she first started to speak was that conversation. I was like, “Babe, I love you. I love you.” Very slightly she said, “I love you.”
This is where I get lost. If all of that is invented, he’s a preternaturally convincing liar; it’s packed with gratuitous detail which someone who was trying to hide something just wouldn’t offer. And Te’o never explicitly says in the course of the interview that he and she ever met. He talks about having known her for four years, about her having come to a game and “seen” him, but as far as I know, in no interview he’s ever given has he talked about them going on dates, spending time face to face, etc. If he was going to make up this story whole cloth, why withhold that particular detail? Why not say, “We spent endless hours together on the beach,” blah blah, to make it even more romantic? (His parents did tell reporters that they had met. Presumably they were relaying info that Te’o had given them, but again — it’s odd that he never told a reporter that himself.) If there’s a kernel of truth to all this, though, which even his otherwise skeptical teammates seem to believe, then who was the girl he spoke with on the phone? The mastermind, allegedly, is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who’s been accused of telling hard-to-believe sob stories before, but either he had a female accomplice or Te’o really is the preternatural liar he’s suspected of being. Reagan Mauia, a fullback on the Arizona Cardinals, claims he met someone pretending to be Kekua in 2011. Was that the accomplice, or is Mauia lying on Te’o’s behalf to try to get him off the hook?
Two exit questions for you to chew on. One: How is it that Te’o only discovered the hoax on December 6 when other people were talking about it on Twitter days earlier? Two: They’d known each other four years; they’d been dating for 11 months; Kekua had supposedly been in a car accident and then gotten leukemia — and Te’o never demanded to visit her? Ever?