Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend A Hoax? Deadspin Claims Lennay Kekua Never Existed
Was Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend story really a fraud? (Photo: REUTERS)
UPDATE: Notre Dame has released a statement saying that Te'o was the victim of a hoax, per Pete Thamel of SI.com.
Fans around the country were captivated by the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who excelled on the football field despite the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend within a six-hour span. As the story goes, Lennay Kekua, Teo's girlfriend, died of leukemia days before the Irish's game against the Michigan Wolverines. Te'o started that game, intercepting two passes and forcing two others with his pass rushing..
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"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," Te'o told SI.com after that game. "That lei for me represents family. It doesn't represent me. It represents everyone sticking together and everybody realizing what's important in life. That's families sticking together."
Te'o faced another emotional test a month later, when Notre Dame faced Stanford, his girlfriend's supposed alma mater, in October. Te'o and the Irish stopped the Cardinal on a late goal-line stand to seal the victory, with the linebacker contributing to tackles on the decisive third and fourth down plays, per AOL Sporting News.
Kekua's death helped spur fundraising for cancer research. The website Indiegog has a campaign by one Notre Dame fan dedicated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma society. The campaign has raised over $4,200 as of Wednesday afternoon.
However, Deadspin reports that the dead girlfriend story may in fact be a hoax. The site confirms that Manti Teo's grandmother, Annette Santiago, died on September 11, 2012. However, there was no record in social security of Kekua's passing, nor was there an obituary or funeral announcement in a local paper.
The website notes that CBS ran a feature story on the day of the national championship game, which Te'o's Irish lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide. The story featured a quote and photo of Kekua that stated, "Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you'll stay there and you'll play and you'll honor me through the way you play."
However, Deadspin found a woman who claims to the girl featured in the photo. She lives in California and is very much alive. She told Deadspin that the photo comes from her Facebook account.
According to this story, Manti Te'o "met" Kekua through Twitter, when she sent him some message and private Twitter pictures. Those pictures mostly came from the social media accounts of the California girl (who Deadspin calls "Reba.") However, one of those photos Reba recognized as a picture she sent to an old high school friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Tuiasosopo also apparently knew Te'o, based on the series of tweets they have sent each other.
Several friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo think that he is responsible for creating Te'o's supposed dead girlfriend. For one thing, Tuiasosopo was in a car accident a month before Kekua supposedly was. Apparently Tuiasosopo pulled a similar stunt in the past before the family of "Kekua"'s first boyfriend became suspicious.
Another red flag is that Te'o himself tweeted several messages to the Twitter account @uilanirae, which claimed to belong to Kekua's sister. However, that account was deleted a few weeks later amid allegations that it was a fake. The photos on that account allegedly belonged to a woman named Donna Tei.
Meanwhile, the site reports that one friend thinks there is an "80 percent" chance that Te'o himself was in on the hoax.
This story has not yet been confirmed, but if true it's a devastating attack on Te'o's character. The linebacker is projected to be a first round pick in April's draft, in part because of his strong leadership and character. This story could blow that reputation to pieces.
It's unclear exactly why Manti Te'o may have made up this dead girlfriend, though Sean Highkin of ESPN TrueHoop thinks it may have been to boost the linebacker's Heisman candidacy. Te'o ultimately lost the award to Texas A & M quarterback Johnny Manziel.