SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The wrenching story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia — a loss he said inspired him to play his best all the way to the BCS championship — was dismissed by the school Wednesday as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.
Notre Dame said it believes the Heisman Trophy finalist was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.
The school made the statement following a lengthy story by Deadspin.com, saying it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed. The website story suggests a friend of Te'o may have carried out the hoax and that the football player may have been in on it — a stunning claim against a widely admired All-American who led the most famed program in college football back to the national championship game for the first time since 1988.
"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 said in a statement. "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. "
However, he stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had, though he did on numerous occasions talk about how special the relationship was to him.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," he said.
"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."