Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame linebacker who nearly won the Heisman Trophy this season, is at the center of what Deadspin calls a "hoax," in which the story of a lost love was created in order to bolster his personal myth. The site is questioning the existence of a girl Te'o has said inspired him to new heights. He has not yet responded to the story; we'll update this post with any new information as it emerges.
The revelations laid out by Deadspin's Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey seem to undermine what they call "the most heartbreaking and inspirational story of the college football season" -- the story of how Te'o, a devout Mormon from Hawaii, suffered the tragedy of losing his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, to leukemia, after she had been in a car accident.
The article has hit the world of college football like a bombshell, as it seems to irrevocably change the image of a player who had been embraced for his athletic talent, his personal charm, and his story of overcoming a deep loss. The story was repeated by many media outlets, such as Sports Illustrated and CBS.
Burke and Dickey acknowledge certain truths about Te'o: that he is a fantastically talented football player, that he is devoted to his family, and that he lost his grandmother, Annette Santiago, 72, on Sept. 11, 2012. But they seek to undermine the oft-repeated tale of how Te'o was told of both Santiago's death, and that of his girlfriend, within six hours of one another.
In fact, they say that Lennay Kekua seems to have never existed.
The reporters say they ran searches via Nexis and the Social Security Administration to try to verify Kekua's death. Attempts to track her social media existence turned up only a few Twitter and Instagram accounts. And then there's the picture often used to portray Kekua.
"The photographs identified as Kekua--in online tributes and on TV news reports--are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua," according to Deadspin. "She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te'o."
When they tracked down the woman they say is in the photo, Burke and Dickey say she was "initially confused, then horrified to find that she had become the face of a dead woman." They say she identified the photo as being part of her Facebook profile.
Other photos used on a Twitter account for "Lennay" included one the woman said wasn't on Facebook -- but that she had sent it to an old high school friend. Burke and Dickey say that an old classmate of Reba's, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, may be the person behind the Lenney Kekua hoax.
To some, one question that remains is what level of involvement Manti Te'o had in the scheme, or whether he might have been duped.
Deadspin reports, "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."
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