Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Well, this Manti Te'o story is about as crazy as it gets. Catfish-crazy, in fact!
Part of the heartwarming backstory to Notre Dame's run to the BCS title game this year involved linebacker Te'o, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and all-around swell-sounding lad who cited the deaths of two loved ones—his grandmother and his girlfriend—back in September as inspiration throughout his breakout season.
But there's a big flag on the field now, courtesy of Deadspin, which broke the news that Te'o's late girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, is a figment of someone's imagination.
And both Te'o and Notre Dame swear it wasn't the First Team All-American's imagination that dreamed up what is proving to be an elaborate hoax, replete with a fake Twitter account and online photos that are reportedly of another 22-year-old girl with no history of cancer or anything resembling Kekua's invented backstory.
"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 Wednesday in a statement to media outlets.
"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."
Te'o told ESPN back in October that Kekua was "the most beautiful girl [he had] ever met." But maybe people just assumed he meant in person...?
"It further pains me," his statement continued, "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."
According to Deadspin, there was no record of Kukua at Stanford, where she supposedly went to school, and no death certificate filed with her name.
In response to the site's queries, Notre Dame revealed today that the university found out about the hoax last month and the "proper authorities" are investigating the matter.
UPDATE: In a news conference Wednesday night, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that Te'o informed his coaches on Dec. 26 that something wasn't right after receiving a call from what had been Kukua's mobile number.
"When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead," Swarbrick said. "Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine."
Te'o is expected to address the media sometime Thursday.