January 18, 2013

With Te'o silent, questions about hoax mount

Tom Coyne / The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Manti Te'o has already tried to explain how his heartwarming story of playing through adversity was a lie he wasn't responsible for, how he was the victim of a cruel hoax about a dead girlfriend who never existed.

click image to enlarge

In this Jan. 5, 2013, photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during media day for the BCS national championship NCAA college football game in Miami.

AP

He still has questions to answer, with many wondering whether he was a victim or participant in the scam. Those doubts even extended to his own campus, where he is one of the most popular players in Notre Dame's storied history.

"Whenever Manti decides to speak I'll bet the entire campus will stop what they're doing and watch what he has to say," Notre Dame student body president Brett Rocheleau said Thursday. "I think the majority of students believe in Manti. They just want to hear him answer these final few questions and hear the story from his point of view."

When Te'o will do that, like so much else about this story, is still a mystery.

An Associated Press review of news coverage found that Te'o talked about his doomed love in a Web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10. He and the university said he learned on Dec. 6 that it was all a hoax — not only was she not dead, she wasn't real.

On Thursday, a day after the bizarre news broke, there were questions about whether he really was duped, as he claimed, or whether he and the university were complicit in the hoax and misled the public, perhaps to improve his chances of winning the Heisman. He came in second, propelled by one of the most compelling plot lines of the season.

Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel said the case has "left everyone wondering whether this was really the case of a naïve football player done wrong by friends or a fabrication that has yet to play to its conclusion."

Gregg Doyel, national columnist for CBSSports.com, was more direct.

"Nothing about this story has been comprehensible, or logical, and that extends to what happens next," he wrote. "I cannot comprehend Manti Te'o saying anything that could make me believe he was a victim."

On Wednesday, Te'o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the player was drawn into a virtual romance with a woman who used the phony name Lennay Kekua, and was fooled into believing she died of leukemia in September. They said his only contact with the woman was via the Internet and telephone. Te'o was not at the news conference; the school released a 225-word statement from him.

Te'o also lost his grandmother — for real — the same day his girlfriend supposedly died, and his role in leading Notre Dame to its best season in decades endeared him to fans and put him at the center of one of college football's feel-good stories of the year.

Relying on information provided by Te'o's family members, the South Bend Tribune reported in October that Te'o and Kekua first met, in person, in 2009, and that the two had also gotten together in Hawaii, where Te'o grew up.

Sports Illustrated posted a previously unpublished transcript of a one-on-one interview with Te'o from Sept. 23. In it, he goes into great detail about his relationship with Kekua and her physical ailments. He also mentioned meeting her for the first time after a game in California.

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