Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in bizarre hoax

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o speaks during media day for the 2013 BCS National Championship NCAA football game in Miami, Florida 5 January 2013 Manti Te'o's inspirational story was widely shared in US sport media

A US college football star is in the spotlight for the wrong reasons after his story of a girlfriend who died of cancer turned out to be a bizarre hoax.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, 21, said her death had inspired him to lead his Indiana team on its march to the national championship game.

But he stunned the sporting world on Wednesday night by admitting that his partner, Lennay Kekua, never existed.

Notre Dame said the player had been duped by an online and phone romance.

The hoax was revealed hours after a sports website, Deadspin.com, posted an investigative report stating that it could find no record Kekua had ever existed, while noting numerous inconsistencies in the story.

'Sick joke'

She was said to have been a 22-year-old Stanford University graduate who had been in a serious car accident in California, before being diagnosed with leukaemia.

Start Quote

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick (16 January 2013)

The pain was real, the grief was real, the affection was real”

End Quote Jack Swarbrick Notre Dame Athletic Director

Kekua was said to have died within hours of Te'o's real-life grandmother, who passed away on 11 September after a long illness.

But Deadspin said that it could find no official record of Kekua's death and that no-one of that name had attended Stanford University.

In a statement, Te'o said he had been the victim of a "sick joke", but he did not say whether he had ever met Kekua in person, nor did he correct media reports that he had met her.

"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," said the statement.

"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."

He added: "To realise that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious."

Unnerving phone call

Notre Dame apparently knew about the hoax as far back as 26 December, but kept the information private ahead of this month's national championship game.

Manti Te'o in the BCS National Championship college football game 7 January 2013 Manti Te'o in the national college football championship game

In a press conference on Wednesday, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said Te'o had told his coaches in December that he had received a call from Kekua's phone number earlier that month.

"When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead," Mr Swarbrick said.

"Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine."

Notre Dame then hired investigators, who reported that multiple individuals had discussed the deception online.

For Te'o, Mr Swarbrick said: "The grief was real. The affection was real."

He added Notre Dame had not released its investigation report before Deadspin's story because the school had "no idea of motive".

Notre Dame lost the championship game to the University of Alabama on 7 January, and Te'o is now hoping to go professional in the National Football League.

More on This Story

More US & Canada stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • An ant and a humanAnts v humans

    Do all the world's ants really weigh as much as all the humans?


  • Tattooed person using tabletRogue ink

    People who lost their jobs because of their tattoos


  • Indian coupleSuspicious spouses

    Is your sweetheart playing away? Call Delhi's wedding detective


  • Civilians who had been hiding inside during gun battles manage to flee  from the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, 21 September 2013Westgate's questions

    One year on, Kenyans await answers about the mall attack


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • GeoguessrWhere in the world...?

    Think you are a geography expert? Test your knowledge with BBC Travel’s interactive game

Programmes

  • StudentsClick Watch

    Could a new social network help tailor lessons to students’ needs and spot when they fall behind?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.