Manti Te’o is looking ahead to the NFL draft, reportedly working out at the IMG Academy in Tampa, but in the days immediately following Notre Dame’s loss to Alabama in the BCS championship game, there was quite a debate over how to handle the news that the story of his girlfriend was a hoax.
Yahoo’s Pat Forde writes that, “Some administrators were pressing for a unilateral public disclosure by the school, while others wanted to let Te’o himself make the stunning news public, the source said. Notre Dame officials were in contact with Te’o’s agent, Tom Condon of Creative Artists Agency, and were told the Heisman Trophy runner-up planned to release his version of events Monday. The decision was made to wait and let Te’o and CAA control the message.”
Instead, Deadspin broke the story of the relationship, which had become an emotional touchstone for the Fighting Irish as they advanced to the national title game.
“Their plan was Monday,” the source told Forde. “In hindsight, we shouldn’t have given them that time.”
Deadspin reported that Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s girlfriend who died of leukemia in September, had never existed, although Te’o had talked about their relationship and her influence on his life to plenty of media outlets throughout the storybook season. Despite the inevitability that the story would become public, Te’o and Notre Dame were left playing defense on it.
“There was never a belief in any quarter that it wouldn’t get told,” the source told Forde.
On Dec. 7, just before Te’o finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting, he received a call showing the number he associated with Kekua, according to Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. He asked the caller questions only Kekua could answer and, by the time the semester ended, was convinced that she was a hoax, Forde writes. On Dec. 27, he told Notre Dame officials that he had never met Kekua.
Te’o’s father, Brian, had spoken of meeting Kekua, but, a source told Forde, “that’s pretty much Brian Te’o. He’s a great guy, but he loves to add color.”
With the BCS game approaching Jan. 7, Notre Dame hired an investigative firm and learned in its final report Jan. 4 that there were no potentially criminal acts. On Jan. 5, Swarbrick said he spoke with Te’o’s parents and “it was my understanding – is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release the story themselves next week when today’s story broke.”
Alabama blew out Notre Dame in the championship game and Te’o played poorly.
“He wasn’t the same spark in the locker room,” a source told Forde. “He was a different kid wearing the same number.”