- PHOTOS: Pictures of Manti Te'o
The story about Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia, which the Notre Dame All-American credited with inspiring him as he led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game, turns out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker, the school said Wednesday.
Te'o was the beloved leader of the Notre Dame football team for the way he weathered personal tragedy. For the tough, likeable Irish linebacker from Hawaii, the dogs were turned on him. His girlfriend, the one who supposedly died and gave him the strength to play on, was a hoax.
The story broke in an article on a website called Deadspin that found, on December 26, Manti told Notre Dame officials he was the victim of a hoax and that the picture of his girlfriend circulated in news stories around the world was a 22-year-old California woman not named Lennay Kekua -- it was all a hoax created by one of Manti's friends.
Read the full transcript of Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick's press conference hereLate Wednesday afternoon, in a statement, Te'o said that he had communicated with the woman online and on the phone:
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o wrote. "To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
"This was a very elaborate, sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference Wednesday evening.
Her widely reported death even snookered Notre Dame's coach Brian Kelly, who talked about it last month.
"He had himself in order in terms of what he did on a day-to-day basis," said Kelly. "What we wanted him to do was impact others, accountability if you will."
But 10 days after finding out he had been pranked, Te'o himself had an opportunity to set the record straight when he was asked about the influence of the tragedy in his life.
"That event is well-documented," Te'o said January 5. "My team's always there for me and my family is always there for me. I mean, we all know about that...how I went through that. I don't think I need to say much about that."
Notre Dame confirmed the hoax Wednesday, shortly after the Web report appeared, but it is almost three weeks since the university found out about it.
There is no word on why Notre Dame didn't reveal the hoax earlier.
Te'o issued a statement Wednesday afternoon:
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
"It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.
"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.
"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.
"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."