Manti Te'o Denies Being Part of Hoax in ESPN Interview

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2013

AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones
AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones

Breaking his silence for the first time since Deadspin broke a story about a hoax involving his purported girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o on Friday night categorically denied being involved with the scam.

"No. Never," Te'o said in an interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap .

"I wasn't faking it," he said. "I wasn't part of this."

Te'o also said that he did not make up anything to help his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

"When (people) hear the facts, they'll know," he said. "They'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this."

Speaking with Schaap in an off-camera interview, Te'o admitted to many different facets of how the story affected him. First, he admitted to lying to his father when he said that he and Kekua had met, according to the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton:

ESPN: Manti Te'o said he lied to his father about having met Lennay Kekua, prompting his father to tell reporters that the two had met.

— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) January 19, 2013

Te'o also admitted to spinning the narrative to the media, according to Hamilton:

Manti Te'o to ESPN: "I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."

— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) January 19, 2013

As for why he would lie to his father and spin the story to make people think he met Kekua, Te'o said he thought people would think his online relationship was crazy, according to Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel:

"… I knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody I didn't meet … so I kind of tailored my stories to have people think" he'd met her.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 19, 2013

While this story had every twist and turn imaginable, there was no financial fraud involved. According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Kekua once asked for Te'o's checking information, but he rebuffed the request:

Te'o never asked for money during plot, but Kekua once requested his checking account number to send him money. Te'o didn't provide it

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 19, 2013

In perhaps the most shocking revelation of the interview, Te'o claims that he was not convinced completely that Kekua did not exist until Wednesday, per Mandel:

WHOA. Schaap: Te'o was not fully convinced the girl didn't exist until TWO DAYS AGO, when Tuiasasopo called and apologized.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 19, 2013

How did the realization come for Te'o? Ronaiah Tuiasosopo reportedly came clean to the Irish star on the phone when the story came out, per Hamilton:

Manti Te'o told ESPN Ronaiah Tuiasosopo called two days ago to apologize for executing Lennay Kekua hoax on him.

— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) January 19, 2013

Tuiasosopo also showed Te'o the messages he sent while falsely representing himself as Kekua, according to Mandel:

Schaap says Tuiasosopo confessed/apologized over Twitter messaging, and that Te'o showed him the messages.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 19, 2013

While showing him the messages, Tuiasosopo also admitted that there were "two guys and a girl" complicit in the scheme, per Hamilton:

Manti Te'o to ESPN: "Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing...According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah's one."

— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) January 19, 2013

In a cruel twist of fate, Te'o was given the news that his girlfriend supposedly died on Sept. 12, the same day his grandmother passed, per McMurphy:

Te'o said on Sept. 12 after grandmother died he got in argument on phone w/Kekua.Later that day, he was told Kekua had died

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) January 19, 2013

For those Notre Dame fans who wonder whether Te'o's performance was affected during the BCS National Championship Game, he said it was (per Hamilton): 

Manti Te'o to ESPN on the dead girlfriend hoax and the BCS title game: "It affected me." #NotreDame #Alabama

— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) January 19, 2013

According to Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, Te'o had another girlfriend after Kekua supposedly died:

Schaap said Te'o told him he had a girlfriend this fall after Lennay Kekua died. If so, she'll be interviewed soon enough.

— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 19, 2013

Te’o’s statements break two days of silence and rampant speculation about one of the strangest stories in recent memory. 

On Wednesday, Deadspin broke a story about a long-running scam involving the Notre Dame linebacker and the reported death of Kekua. Initially believed to be a Stanford student who Te’o shared a passing glance with after a game, the two reportedly carried on a romantic relationship beginning in early 2012.

Only this relationship was one wrought with storybook-like turmoil. First, Kekua was involved in a serious car accident and then was later diagnosed with leukemia almost immediately after recovering. As the narrative went, Te’o cared for her throughout her battle with cancer and used her as inspiration before her death.

It just so happened that Kekua’s death coincided within days of Te’o’s grandmother passing away. Though stricken with grief, he continued to play and did not attend Kekua’s funeral due to her wishes. The story tugged at the heartstrings of college football fans across the nation, propelling Te’o to become one of 2012's most famous athletes.

Te’o wound up leading the Irish to an undefeated regular season, and he finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

But it turns out Kekua never existed. She was an imaginary figment of online imagination, reportedly masterminded by Tuiasosopo, a supposed friend of Te’o’s. In the days following Deadspin's report, many wondered aloud whether Te'o was a co-conspirator in the scheme to gain national attention.

Based on his quotes Friday, it seems like Te'o won't be taking those accusations lying down.