Deadspin recently reported that the story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, who supposedly died from cancer while he was playing during the regular college football season, was a hoax. Paul Farhi writes:
Was it too good to check?
Reporters from the South Bend Tribune to CBS to Sports Illustrated all repeated the story about the heartbreaking death of a young woman and her alleged romantic links to a Notre Dame football hero.
One problem: It appears not to be true. As the sports Web site Deadspin.com reported Wednesday, the woman — identified in TV, print and Web stories for months as Lennay Kekua — never existed. Her reported death and relationship with Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o seem to have been an elaborate hoax.
Although it’s still not clear who created and perpetrated the apparent deception, the media took Te’o’s word for it without inquiring further.
In a statement released by Notre Dame after the Deadspin report broke Wednesday, Te’o said that he believed that his “girlfriend” existed, at least online. He said he, like the news media, was duped into believing that Kekua died of leukemia in September.
Some still believe Kekua was real, though. Cindy Boren writes:
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had a phenomenal season, playing under the incredible emotional burden of the death of his girlfriend. Only now, according to Notre Dame, Lennay Kekua never existed and Te’o was the unwitting victim of an elaborate hoax.
The story, reported exhaustively by Deadspin’s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, is headspinningly intricate. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick described Te’o as the “most trusting” individual and one very big catch in a catfishing incident.
One NFL player, though, believes he met the woman in question.
Fullback Reagan Maui’a, who was on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster for five weeks last fall, said he met her, face-to-face, when he and other Polynesian teammates joined Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers on a mission to do charity work in American Samoa in June 2011.
“This was before her and Manti,” Maui’a told ESPN.com Wednesday evening. “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.”
The attention Notre Dame has given to the news brings up questions about how the university handles press, real and fake, about its football program and women, according to Melinda Henneberger:
So many tears for a fake dead girl, but none for a real one.
The death of Lennay Kekau after her dramatic relationship with Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o — widely reported by Sports Illustrated, CBS and many other media outlets – seems to have all been an elaborate hoax.
Which means Notre Dame apparently held an emotional press conference for a fake dead girl, but none for real one.
As I’ve reported before, evidence that the University of Notre Dame covers up for sexual predators on the football team in hopes of winning some games has been mostly ignored. “Who can know?” many fans ask, on their way to snap up some more “Play Like a Champion” tee-shirts ahead of the big game.
But evidence that the school kept mum after learning that that the sad story of Te’o’s girlfriend, who with her dying breath wanted him to fight on to victory anyway – gosh, just like the Gipper — was concocted from start to finish? Now that’s a national story and a real gut-punch to fans, involving important matters like the pursuit of the Heisman Trophy.
There are many questions yet to be answered, but it is now clear that the women never existed.
The irony of this tale is that it will hurt Notre Dame far more than their quite deliberate disinformation campaign about Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide in 2010 after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexual assault. That’s because we won’t tolerate having our feelings manipulated, even if outlets from Sports Illustrated to the New York Times were so eager for a piece of the mythmaking that the hokum-detectors either never sounded, or were muffled.