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Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o, during an interview with ABC News’ Katie Couric, has confessed to at least having some knowledge of the fact that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua was fake. At least in the end. And in an even more bizarre turn of events, one of the hoax perpetrators, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, has admitted through his attorney that he was the voice of Lennay in phone calls to Manti.
Tuiasosopo, from Southern California, and Te’o, who grew up in Hawaii before moving to attend Notre Dame, were acquainted because Lennay Kekua (allegedly being voiced by Tuiasosopo) told Te’o that Tuiasosopo was her favorite cousin. They allegedly met face-to-face for the first time at a USC game in November. Celebrity news outlet TMZ just uncovered footage of that meeting, where it appears that Tuiasosopo was much more into the hug than Te’o was.
Te’o still asserts that he thought Kekua was real up until December 6th, when he received a phone call from the person he had come to know as Kekua, claiming to be alive, even though it was reported that she had died of leukemia on September 12th. Te’o told Couric that he felt he had to carry on with the hoax.
Te’o told Couric, “Now I get a phone call on December 6, saying that she’s alive and then I’m going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?”
He went on to defend himself, “Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on September 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on September 12.”
For her part, Couric verifies hearing voice mail messages saved to Te’o’s phone from the person allegedly pretending to be Kekua. She also said that she saw Te’o’s phone bills, telling Diane Sawyer, “There were multiple calls to this number, where he would stay on the phone for hours.”
But if the phone records that Katie Couric saw are the same ones provided to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, it isn’t going to prove much. The records provided to Schapp were a spreadsheet of calls spanning from May 11 to Sept. 12, sent through email, and were not the actual phone bills. If the records are to be believed, they show that during this period of time, when Te’o allegedly believed Kekua was in a hospital in Los Angeles, recovering from a car accident and then being treated for Leukemia, more than 1,000 calls were made and received on Te’o’s phone with a Los Angeles County phone number.
110 of the phone calls were over an hour in length each, and there were many calls that were literally hours long. Te’o told Schaap in an interview, “I’d be on the phone. And she had complications from the accident and, she said the only thing that could help her sleep was if I was on the phone. So I would be on the phone, and I’d have the phone on the whole night.”
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With his parents as his biggest support, many have been left wondering what their role in this was, with them so emphatically defending their son. Couric says she’s convinced that they truly did believe that Kekua existed, as Te’o’s mother had spoken with the person pretending to be Kekua by phone on several occasions, and Te’o’s father texting Kekua biblical passages to discuss with her.
Of course there is the discrepancy of Te’o’s father being quoted in October by the South Bend Tribune, saying that Te’o and Kekua met at a football game at Stanford, and exchanged numbers. Te’o admitted to lying to his dad about how he and Kekua “met”, saying he was embarrassed to say that he was in love with someone he had never even met.
When asked about those who say his son lied for the publicity, Te’o’s dad told Couric through tears, “People can speculate about what they think he is. I’ve known him 21 years of his life, and he’s not a liar. He’s a kid.”
But it still does not explain discrepancies in Te’o’s own story, such as him telling Sports Illustrated in October that Kekua was in attendance of at least one of his games, and then later saying in a statement that he’d never met her in person.
It was an article by Deadspin that broke the hoax initially, and Te’o told ESPN that, after the story broke, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo tweeted him, admitting that he was to blame for the hoax and apologizing. Tuiasosopo reportedly told Te’o that the entire thing was perpetrated by two men and a woman. But Timothy Burke, the author of the Deadspin article that broke the story, is skeptical, saying, “How dense would Manti Te’o have to be to not realize this was his friend who was behind the account the entire time? I don’t believe Manti Te’o could be that dumb.”
With Tuiasosopo confessing to be the voice of Kekua, it does seem far-fetched. According to Tuiasosopo’s attorney, Milton Grimes, those over 1,000 phone calls that Te’o had with Kekua was simply Tuiasosopo speaking in a falsetto voice. Grimes claims that it was never Tuiasosopo’s intention to hurt Te’o, saying “This wasn’t a prank to make fun. It was establishing a communication with someone. … It was a person with a troubled existence trying to reach out and communicate and have a relationship.”
Many are still skeptical that Te’o is telling the whole truth, and not just letting a little bit of truth slip out to make him seem more credible.
We are sure that there will be more bizarre twists to come.
Click here to see video of the hug between Te’o and Tuiasosopo’s first meeting.