Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference Wednesday night where he talked about the Deadspin report that star football player Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend was a hoax.During the season it was reported that Te’o’s long-distance girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died after first being in a serious car crash and then being diagnosed with leukemia — and it was described in a heartbreaking story by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel how Te’o would phone her for hours on end in the hospital room.
Now it appears that the whole thing was a lie.
Swarbrick threw 100 per cent of his and the school’s weight behind Te’o, saying he was the victim of a “cruel hoax,” and was not a part of it.
He also gave us new details about how Te’o says he uncovered the hoax.
Swarbrick says that Te’o received a call on the day of the ESPN College Football Awards — December 6th — from the phone number that he believed to be Lennay Kekua’s, his deceased girlfriend. The voice on the phone was the voice Te’o thought was Kekua’s from prior phone conversations. She told Te’o she was still alive, and tried to “restart” the relationship, according to Swarbrick.
She contacted Te’o several times after that, but Te’o told his coaches on December 26th that he thought he was the target of a hoax. An independent investigation was launched, and on January 4th the firm that investigated the situation concluded it was an elaborate hoax, according to Swarbrick.
Swarbrick also said that Te’o never met Kekua in person. It was an exclusively online relationship. Several meetings were planned, but Kekua “never showed,” Swarbrick said. He cited the movie “Catfish” — which tells the story of people who dupe strangers into fake relationships online — as a reference for what happened to Te’o.
That does not jive with this October 2012 story from the South Bend Tribune, where Te’o’s father Brian said:
“They started out as just friends. Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple.”
It could be that Te’o and his father were lying to protect themselves from the embarrassment that Manti was in an exclusively-online relationship. But there is a clear inconsistency.
Swarbrick said it was “a group of people” who were involved in a “sophisticated hoax” to trick Te’o. Deadspin’s report implied that one person — a college kid who Te’o knew — was behind creating the fake Kekua identity. Swarbrick said that detail, “does not square with [his] information.”
Although the Deadspin story never directly said Te’o was in on the hoax, it strongly implied that he was, and quoted a source who said there was an 80% chance Te’o knew about it.
Still, it appears that Notre Dame is putting its full faith in Te’o’s word, for better or worse.
Swarbrick said Te’o will tell his story sometime in the next week or so. Interesting, the school never went to the police, and they will not release the contents of the independent investigation that confirmed the whole thing was a hoax.
We were live-blogging the press conference, which you can scroll through below for more quotes.
8:45 pm: That’s it. Very interesting and strange press conference.
8:42 pm: Notre Dame never told the police or the NCAA.
8:40 pm: Notre Dame AD, crying now, on Te’o: “The single most trusting human being I have ever met will never be able to trust again in his life.”
8:35 pm: Notre Dame AD says the “girlfriend” tried to restart the relationship by calling Te’o during the ESPN College Football Awards Show on 12/6. She called him from the number he thought was Kekua’s number, and she told him she was alive. She tried to contact him a bunch of times after that. Te’o told coach Brian Kelly and the defensive coordinator on 12/26. He waited because he went home for Christmas.
8:30 pm: Notre Dame AD says the Deadspin report that Te’o knew the person who created Lennay Kekua on Twitter “does not square with my information.” Interesting…
8:28 pm: Notre Dame AD: “We know that these perpetrators didn’t limit themselves to Manti as a target.” No other ND players involved. Deadspin also mentioned that fake Lennay Kekua had relationships with other real people.
8:24 pm: Notre Dame AD throws out theories for why they did it: extortion, NCAA violation, affecting football games, etc.
8:22 pm: Te’o was “startled, shocked” when he received a phone call from the “girlfriend” he believe to be dead in early December.
8:19 pm: “This was exclusively an online relationship.” Implies they never met. Several meetings were set up, but Lennay never showed.
8:18 pm: Athletic director says the independent investigation found that the perpetrators were involved in “online chatter” indicating that it was a hoax, and Te’o was a victim.
8:15 pm: Athletic director “I will refer you to the documentary Catfish.” It’s a movie about people tricking people online by pretending to be other people.
8:14 pm: The Te’o’s and the independent research firm were going to release the story next week, according to the Notre Dame athletic director.
8:13 pm: The school received a final report on the independent investigation on January 4th. It confirmed that it was a “sophisticated hoax.”
8:11 pm: Athletic director: Manti Te’o got a phone call on in early December from the number of his deceased girlfriend. The voice was the voice he believed to be his girlfriend. She told him she was not dead.
8:10 pm: ND athletic director: “Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota.”
8:08: ND athletic director: “Manti was the victim of that hoax. Manti is the victim of that hoax … In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark.”
8:07 pm: Notre Dame athletic director: “At the end of the day this is Manti’s story to tell.”
8:05 pm: Notre Dame AD, “My focus here tonight is to talk to you about what the University knew, when we knew it, and what decisions we made based on that information.
8:04 pm: It hasn’t started yet. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick will speak.
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