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Notre Dame Star Admits to Briefly Lying About Girlfriend

By: CBS News Email
By: CBS News Email

CBS Web Copy

NEW YORK Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has told Katie Couric that he briefly lied about his online girlfriend after discovering she didn't exist, while maintaining that he had no part in creating the hoax.

Pressed by Couric to admit that he was in on the deception, Te'o said he believed that his girlfriend Lennay Kekua had died of cancer and didn't lie about it until December.

"Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12," Te'o said in an interview to air Thursday on Couric's syndicated talk show. A segment of the interview with Te'o and his parents was broadcast Wednesday on "Good Morning America."

The Heisman Trophy runner-up said he only learned of the hoax when he received a phone call in December from a woman saying she was Kekua.

"Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she's alive and then I'm going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?" Te'o said.

An Associated Press review of news coverage found that the Heisman Trophy runner-up talked about his doomed love in a Web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10.

Te'o's father defended his son when Couric pointed out that many people don't believe the Irish star, suspecting he used the situation for personal gain.

"People can speculate about what they think he is. I've known him 21 years of his life. And he's not a liar. He's a kid," Brian Te'o said with tears in his eyes.

On Tuesday, the woman whose photo was used as the "face" of the Twitter account of Te'o's supposed girlfriend says the man allegedly behind the hoax confessed and apologized to her.

Diane O'Meara told NBC's "Today" show that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating a fake woman called Lennay Kekua.

Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday that the public's love of a good tale was motivation for Te'o to perpetuate the story.

"This girlfriend was never produced. If you go back and you look at the transcripts of some of the interviews he did, now you say, 'Gee, no one asked this follow-up, that follow-up.' We loved this tale of double grief and someone valiantly performing through it. And because of that, I think we deliberately didn't ask some tough questions, that now, in retrospect, it looks like we should have."

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


CBS Web Copy

SOUTH BEND, Ind. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick says the school has encouraged linebacker Manti Te'o to speak publicly — and soon — about being the victim of a hoax involving a dead girlfriend who never existed.

Swarbrick said during the taping of his weekly radio show, which airs regionally on Saturday but was posted online as a podcast on Friday, that Te'o has to explain exactly how he was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.

"I don't have any specific knowledge as to how and when, but I can't fathom a circumstance where it doesn't (happen). I sort of share everybody's view that it has to happen. We are certainly encouraging it to happen. We think it's important and we'd like to see it happen sooner rather than later," Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick added that before Deadspin.com broke the news with a lengthy report on Wednesday, Te'o and his family had planned to go public with the story Monday.

"Sometimes the best laid plans don't quite work, and this was an example of that. Because the family lost the opportunity in some ways to control the story," he said.

He said the university doesn't have anything more to add.

"It is in the Te'o family's court," he said. "We are very much encouraging them. I hope by the time people are listening to this they have made themselves available to explain and to take questions, because we think that's in everybody's interest. It's certainly our expectation at Notre Dame that they would do that."

Swarbrick said again he is confident Te'o is the victim and did not back away from the strong support he gave the All-American during a news conference Wednesday night, when the AD said an investigation done by a firm hired by the school turned up evidence that supports Te'o's claim he was not involved.

Swarbrick said he will continue to believe that until given "compelling evidence to the contrary."

He said he understands why some people are skeptical about Te'o's story.

"They have every right to say that," Swarbrick said "Now I have some more information than they have. But they have every right to say that. I don't feel any sort of ill will toward that position. If I was on the outside of this presented with the only facts I have at this point — and importantly at the time we're recording this Manti has yet to speak publicly — I think that skepticism is easy to understand. I just ask those people to apply the same skepticism to everything about this.

"I have no doubt the perpetrators have a story they will yet spin about what went on here. I hope skepticism also greets that when they're articulating what that is."

Meanwhile, ESPN's Shelley Smith is reporting that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man identified by Deadspin as the coordinator of the Lennay Kekua hoax, admitted to a friend in December to fooling the Notre Dame linebacker.

ESPN says the friend agreed to be interviewed under the condition that she not be identified.

"She says Tuiasosopo gave her the tearful confession and account of how he played, what he said was at first a game, on the unsuspecting Te'o. And, she says, he told her that it wasn't the first time he had done it," Smith reported.

Friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua. In their initial report, the website said Te'o and Tuiasosopo knew each other.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


CBS Web Copy

SOUTH BEND, Ind. Not once but twice after he supposedly discovered his online girlfriend of three years never even existed, Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te'o perpetuated the heartbreaking story about her death.

An Associated Press review of news coverage found that the Heisman Trophy runner-up talked about his doomed love in a Web interview on Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 11. He and the university said Wednesday that he learned on Dec. 6 that it was all a hoax, that not only wasn't she dead, she wasn't real.

On Thursday, a day after Te'o's inspiring, playing-through-heartache story was exposed as a bizarre lie, Te'o and Notre Dame faced questions from sports writers and fans 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.

Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel said the case has "left everyone wondering whether this was really the case of a naive 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 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 college football's biggest feel-good story 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.

Te'o never mentioned a face-to-face meeting with Kekua in public comments reviewed by the AP. And an AP review of media reports about Te'o since Sept. 13 turned up no instance in which he directly confirmed or denied those stories — until Wednesday.

Among the outstanding questions Thursday: Why didn't Te'o ever clarify the nature of his relationship as the story took on a life of its own?

Te'o's agent, Tom Condon, said the athlete had no plans to make any public statements Thursday in Bradenton, Fla., where he has been training with other NFL hopefuls at the IMG Academy.

Notre Dame said Te'o found out that Kekau was not a real person through a phone call he received at an awards ceremony in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 6. He told Notre Dame coaches about the situation on Dec. 26.

The AP's media review turned up two instances during that gap when the football star mentioned Kekua in public.

Te'o was in New York for the Heisman presentation on Dec. 8 and, during an interview before the ceremony that ran on the WSBT.com, the website for a South Bend TV station, Te'o said: "I mean, I don't like cancer at all. I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer. So I've really tried to go to children's hospitals and see, you know, children."

In a story that ran in the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., on Dec. 11, Te'o recounted why he played a few days after he found out Kekau died in September, and the day she was supposedly buried.

"She made me promise, when it happened, that I would stay and play," he said.

On Wednesday, Swarbrick said Notre Dame did not go public with its findings sooner because it expected the Te'o family to come forward first. But Deadspin.com broke the story Wednesday.

Reporters were turned away Thursday at the main gate of IMG's sprawling, secure complex. Te'o remained on the grounds, said a person familiar with situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither Te'o nor IMG authorized the release of the information.

"This whole thing is so nutsy that I believe it only could have happened at Notre Dame, where mythology trumps common sense on a daily basis. ... Given the choice between reality and fiction, Notre Dame always will choose fiction," sports writer Rick Telander said in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Which brings me to what I believe is the real reason Te'o and apparently his father, at least went along with this scheme: the Heisman Trophy.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass blasted both Te'o and Notre Dame.

"When your girlfriend dying of leukemia after suffering a car crash tells you she loves you, even if it might help you win the Heisman Trophy, you check it out," he said.

He said the university's failure to call a news conference and go public sooner means "Notre Dame is complicit in the lie."

"The school fell in love with the Te'o girlfriend myth," he wrote.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


CBS Web Copy

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame said a story that star Manti Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia — a loss he said inspired him all season and helped him lead the Irish to the BCS title game — turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference late Wednesday about the apparent hoax Wednesday after Deadspin.com said it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

"This was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand," Swarbrick said.

CBS News and its morning program, "CBS This Morning," were among the many news outlets that reported on the "hoax" girlfriend's death. "CBS This Morning" will have an update on the report Thursday.

The Notre Dame athletic director insisted "several things" led him to believe Te'o did not create the girlfriend himself after the university's investigation into the situation, led by a private investigative firm.

"Manti was the victim of that hoax. He has to carry that with him for a while. In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark because he's the guy who was so willing to believe in others," Swarbrick said. "The pain was real. The grieving was real. The affection was real."

By Te'o's own account, she was an "online" girlfriend.

"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," he said in statement.

"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."

"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."

The linebacker's father, Brian Te'o, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in early October that he and his wife had never met Kekua, saying they were hoping to meet her at the Wake Forest game in November. The father said he believed the relationship was just beginning to get serious when she died.

Swarbrick likened the situation to the 2010 movie "Catfish," in which "young filmmakers document their colleague's budding online friendship" with an allegedly young woman that turns out also to be a hoax.

The university said its coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax.

Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," the school said.

Swarbrick said the investigation revealed "several" perpetrators, although the exact number is unclear. He said the university became convinced of the hoax based on "the joy they were taking...referring to what they accomplished and what they had done."

Te'o talked freely about the relationship after her supposed death and how much she meant to him.

In a story that appeared in the South Bend Tribune on Oct. 12, Manti's father, Brian, recounted a story about how his son and Kekua met after Notre Dame had played at Stanford in 2009. Brian Te'o also told the newspaper that Kekua had visited Hawaii and the met with his son. Brian Te'o told the AP in an interview in October that he and his wife had never met Manti's girlfriend but they had hoped to at the Wake Forest game in November. The father said he believed the relationship was just beginning to get serious when she died.

The Tribune released a statement saying: "At the Tribune, we are as stunned by these revelations as everyone else. Indeed, this season we reported the story of this fake girlfriend and her death as details were given to us by Te'o, members of his family and his coaches at Notre Dame."

The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters when asked that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. Te'o didn't miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te'o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season.

"My family and my girlfriend's family have received so much love and support from the Notre Dame family," he said after that game. "Michigan State fans showed some love. And it goes to show that people understand that football is just a game, and it's a game that we play, and we have fun doing it. But at the end of the day, what matters is the people who are around you, and family. I appreciate all the love and support that everybody's given my family and my girlfriend's family."

Te'o went on the become a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing second in the voting, and leading Notre Dame to its first appearance in the BCS championship.

He was asked again about his girlfriend on Jan. 3 prior to the BCS title game, saying: "This team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, `Do you want to go to the movies?' Coach is always calling me asking me, `Are you OK? Do you need anything?'"

Te'o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.

Four days ago Te'o posted on his Twitter account: "Can't wait to start training with the guys! Workin to be the best! The grind continues! (hash)Future"

Te'o's statement also said: "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.

"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."

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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