For a minute, let’s just pretend that Manti Te’o is telling the truth.Let’s assume that he really was hoaxed, he really did think Lennay Kekua was his leukemia-stricken girlfriend, and the white lies he told about meeting Kekua were the result of embarrassment about having an online girlfriend, not his active participation in the hoax.
If all that is true (as a thought experiment), then this is truly one of the cruelest pranks you can imagine.
The hoaxers didn’t just try to trick Te’o into falling in love with a fake person. They tricked him into feeling months of constant trauma. They fooled him into believing a person he loved was on the brink of death for five-straight months.
Here’s what the hoaxers did with the Kekua character between April 2012 and December 2012 (based on Te’o’s interview with Pete Thamel of SI, and the statements made by Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbick):
- They said Lennay got into a car accident on April 28, 2012
- They said Lennay was in a coma, but hearing the sound of Te’o’s voice quickened her breathing
- They said Lennay took a turn for the worse and they were going to pull the plug on her
- After Te’o believed she was going to die, they surprised him and said that she made a miraculous recovery
- They then immediately gave her leukemia
- They pretended to be her in nightly, hours-long phone conversations from the hospital
- They said she was well enough to visit him for the Wake Forest game
- They finally killed her off on September 12
- Months later, on December 6, they called Te’o from his dead girlfriend’s phone, with a person pretending to be his dead girlfriend, and told him she was alive
Beyond the coma/near-death experience stuff, they created an entire fictional universe around Lennay.
They gave her a full backstory (she went to Stanford and took over her father’s construction business when he died). They also populated her universe with fake relatives, who Te’o often communicated with.
And they didn’t just communicate with Te’o. Pete Thamel spoke to several different people about Lennay in September. One of the people — a UCLA football player who went to high school with Te’o — said he had knew and communicated with Lennay before, but never met her face-to-face.
Te’o’s uncle Alema suggested on 1280 The Zone radio that he wouldn’t put it past the hoaxers to hire a woman to actually meet with Manti and pretend to be Lennay Kekua.
Regardless of whether or not that rumour is true, there was a fully-formed fictional universe here — one designed to ensure the validity of the cruel lies at the centre of the hoax.
It’s truly horrible stuff. And if he didn’t know anything at all, Te’o was the victim of serious psychological abuse.
But (and now we stop assuming Te’o’s was hoaxed) there are real questions in his story.
There are also all sorts of rumours coming out of South Bend that Te’o embellished his relationship with Kekua in the media. ND student Tyler Moore wrote on College Spun that it was an open secret among players and some students that Te’o and Kekua weren’t really boyfriend-girlfriend. Today, TMZ reported that Te’o started dating a new (real) girl shortly after Kekua died.
It’s totally plausible that Te’o was hoaxed. It’s totally plausible that Te’o knew about it. And it’s totally plausible that Te’o didn’t know Kekua was a hoax, but played up his relationship with her for publicity.
We just don’t know right now. But if he was hoaxed, it’s truly horrific.
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