Manti Te'o's Girlfriend: Biggest Questions Surrounding Lennay Kekua Report
It's been a rough week for sports and the "Thou shall not lie" commandment we're usually taught from the time we are children.
First, Lance Armstrong reportedly admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs during his seven Tour de France wins, and now, Deadspin has originally reported that Manti Te'o's "deceased" girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, is anything but deceased—and for that matter, anything but real.
Before Notre Dame was to take on Michigan State on Sept. 15, Te'o reportedly found out that his grandmother and girlfriend had both passed away on Sept. 11. The story made national headlines, and following ND's 20-3 win over the Spartans, Te'o's journey toward the Heisman Trophy began.
He finished with 12 tackles that game and garnered attention for his team-first attitude in a situation that many could only fathom to think about. The inspirational performance was a big part of his Heisman candidacy, as he finished second in this year's voting.
According to the Deadspin report, Lennay Kekua is not a name associated with the Social Security Administration's report of deceased individuals, while Te'o's grandmother is.
Two and two just aren't equaling four in this case, and there's plenty of information that has fallen through the cracks, both from the mouths of the University of Notre Dame and Te'o himself. After the latest developments, including a statement both from the university (via Facebook) and then Te'o (via ESPN), here are several questions that need to be answered.
Is Kekua a Real Person Who is Still Alive, or Was She Created?
One of the biggest disconnects from this entire report has been the earlier belief that Te'o was in fact dating Lennay Kekua after meeting her in Palo Alto in 2009.
Here's the reported incident of the meeting, as provided by Deadspin via an earlier South Bend Tribune report:
Nov. 28, 2009: Te'o and Kekua meet after Stanford's 45-38 victory over Notre Dame in Palo Alto, according to the South Bend Tribune: "Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes." Kekua, a Stanford student, swaps phone numbers with Te'o.
That report is in direct contradiction with Te'o's statement following the Deadspin release:
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.
So which one is it, Manti? As Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller notes on Twitter, one of these reports has been falsified along the way:
One way or another, Te'o has lied. Said he met gf after Stanford game. Now says they never met. Which is it?— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 16, 2013
As you can imagine, this is one of the first questions that will be asked as the police and higher officials get involved in reaching the bottom of this affair.
Who is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo?
The name continues to pop up in recent reports, and his role in this scandal appears to be that of conspirator, at the very least.
According to Deadspin, he's knows Te'o personally, and the two may have been behind this whole plot from the start to gain publicity—nothing else. Here's an excerpt from Deadspin's report:
A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told us he was "80 percent sure" that Manti Te'o was "in on it," and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua's death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te'o together on Tuiasosopo's now-deleted Instagram account.
Tuiasosopo, a California native and a person of interest in the case, was in a car accident prior to reports of Kekua being in one later on in the year. There are no records of an accident involving Kekua, but Deadspin found one for Tuiasosopo:
And there was something else: Tuiasosopo had been in a car accident a month before Lennay's supposed accident.
Is he a friend of Te'o's? Is he Lennay Kekua? This 22-year-old will have a major role in proving whether Te'o was involved and in on it from the start.
When Did Notre Dame Find Out? Why Hide It?
We know the answer to this first question to be Dec. 26, as reported in the school's official statement on the matter via Facebook.
Keith Britton of CBS Radio Cleveland shared a brief excerpt from that release on Twitter, for those who want to see it first-hand:
ND Statement on Te'o: "Notre Dame coaches informed Dec 26 by Manti Te’o &parents Manti had been victim of what appears to be a hoax"— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) January 16, 2013
If the school did in fact learn the news on Dec. 26, the answer to the second half of this question is likely simple—they didn't want it to affect the team's focus leading up to Jan. 7 and the BCS National Championship Game.
As reported by ESPN, Te'o was still answering questions from the media about his girlfriend up until Jan. 3—a full week after he allegedly informed the university about the hoax:
He was asked again about his girlfriend on Jan. 3 prior to the BCS title game. He said: "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?'"
It's understandable that to have come clean at this point would have been distracting—we're seeing the ramifications of that now. But to hold off on this information clearly didn't help the team in any way. Alabama beat the tar out of Notre Dame, and now we know that Manti Te'o—either involved or purely a victim—made knowledge of his fake girlfriend public two weeks prior.
Was Te'o Involved?
This is the money question.
Athletes are some of the most quickly judged folks in today's world, and Te'o is no different. Social media outlets and comment boxes everywhere are weighing in on his propensity of contribution, and so far his stories have done nothing but confuse us even more to the validity of his non-involvement.
ESPN part-timer Bomani Jones already has an opinion, as voiced on Twitter:
and so i'm clear: i firmly believe notre dame and te'o are both lying. stories just don't make sense. anyway, more at 7:30.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) January 16, 2013
Tone of voice certainly isn't a firm indicator of Te'o's disposition at the time of Kekua's alleged death, but videos after Notre Dame's win over Michigan State and USC have a different feeling when you watch them with this story in mind.
First, here's Teo's interview with ESPN's Heather Cox following a 20-3 win over Michigan State and a 3-0 start:
Next, his interview following the USC win:
Clearly, he makes mention of his deceased girlfriend, but a video isn't enough evidence to incriminate Te'o in the slightest—just some perspective given the situation.
Declining an invitation to the Senior Bowl seemed fishy at first, but now, it just seems like another move to stay under the radar and avoid this kind of scandal from reaching the public eye.
Te'o will now face the wrath of the school, as well as local and likely national authorities on this matter. He better get his facts straight soon, or we may be headed for another Lance Armstrong-type confession in the coming weeks.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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