Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o might have gotten Catfish’d in the worst way possible.
Catfish, a reality show on MTV, follows young people as they search for their longtime online love interests in person. The goal is to find out if the love interest is real or not, and sadly most of the time, the online persona these people fall in love with turns out to be someone else.
Strangely enough, Te’o, a top NFL prospect, may have been Catfish’d himself.
The star football player lost his grandmother earlier this fall, and on the same day, was told he lost his girlfriend Lennay Kekua to Leukemia. Lennay had reportedly been in a serious car accident in California earlier in 2012, and while on the brink of death, was diagnosed with leukemia that was found by doctors while she was recovering from her injuries.
With Te’o's girlfriend being such a large part of Notre Dame’s storyline this season, DeadSpin.com decided to do some research on the woman, and their investigation led them to believe she may have never existed at all.
Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
So if she never existed, how did this whole thing get started?
DeadSpin claims a star high school quarterback turned religious musician named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo introduced Lennay Kekua and Manti Te’o. Ronaiah and Manti are longtime friends. DeadSpin reports they spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te’o wasn’t the first person to have an online “relationship” with her.
And it keeps getting worse.
To add to the confusion, Reagan Maui’a, a fullback for the Arizona Cardinals, told ESPN that he met Kekua doing charity work in American Samoa in 2011. He claims they were introduced by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, and Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers was allegedly there as well. Here’s what Maui’a said on meeting Lennay Kekua:
“This was before her and Manti. I don’t think Manti was even in the picture, but she and I became good friends. We would talk off and on, just checking up on each other kind of thing. I am close to her family. When she was going through the loss of her father, I was — I offered a comforting shoulder and just someone to bounce her emotions off. That was just from meeting her in Samoa.”
Te’o claims he was a victim of an elaborate hoax. He says that while he was in New York in December he got a phone call from his deceased girlfriend and explained that the whole thing was a fraud. His first suspicions that Lennay’s story was a hoax are dated back to December 26.
As the media frenzy grew, Te’o released a statement on the incident, claiming:
“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. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.
I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious.
If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.”
However, according to DeadSpin:
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.
Only time will tell what really happened as the situation is under a full investigation. Where’s Nev when you need him?!