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The Manti Te'o Saga

January 18th 2013 18:04

On September 12 Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te'o learned that his 72-year-old grandmother, Annette Santiago, had died. A mere six hours later Te’o learned that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had lost her battle with leukemia.

Te’o said that the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend inspired him to play better as he helped his Notre Dame Fighting Irish get to the BCS title game. Media outlets pounced on the “feel good” story of the college football season -- only to find out later that the story about Manti Te'o's girlfriend was a hoax.


In a news conference Wednesday night Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents that Te'o had been the victim of a hoax. Lennay Kekua had never existed and someone using a fictitious name had conspired with others to lead Te’o to believe she had died of leukemia.

Deadspin was the first source to break this story noting that Kekua did not have a death certificate and Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, had no record of anybody by that name.

On October 2 in an interview with ESPN Te'o said Kekua's last words to him were "I love you" and called Kekua "the most beautiful girl I've ever met." Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said Te'o never met Kekua in person claiming “this was exclusively an online relationship."

Then there’s Manti’s father Brian Te'o who came to say that his son and Kekua met in person on a number of occasions claiming that his son and Kekua met in person after a Notre Dame-Stanford game in 2009 in Palo Alto, Calif. Brian Te’o explained that "Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”


Now multiple media outlets have even found multiple instances of Notre Dame’s star linebacker talking about Kekua as if she had existed after Dec. 6, the date that he and the university say he found out that his supposed girlfriend who had died of leukemia was made up. According media reports players claimed Te'o had only met Lennay Kekua once and it wasn't accurate to call Kekua his girlfriend, but according to an anonymous teammate as condolences began to pour in, Te'o simply "played along."

According to Deadspin, the only photos online that identified Kekua are actually pictures of another 22-year-old woman, not named in the report, who told Deadspin one of those photos was shared by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who is believed to have created Kekua. Tuiasosopo has since confessed to the hoax and claims Te’o helped in keeping up the lie.

On Thursday an independent baseball team, the Florence Freedom in Florence, Ky., announced it would have "Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead Day" in late May giving the first 1,000 fans an empty bobblehead box. While some may say it’s too soon to poke fun, it does bring levity to what had been a tragic story.

This is not doubt an intriguing saga, but we should take the time to put things into perspective. As so many people are looking to find out whether or not Manti Te’o was involved with this horrific hoax, what is most important is that a twenty-two year old girl did not die of leukemia.


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