Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had one of the most heartbreaking stories in sports: In the span of six hours, he learned about the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.
After getting the terrible news, though, he went out and led his team to a surprise 20-3 victory against Michigan State.
In articles and testimonies in the months that followed, Te’o spoke of his meeting Kekua, of her bravery in the face of death, of letters she wrote as her leukemia progressed.
On Wednesday, however, the sports site Deadspin discovered Te’o's story of a dead girlfriend was a complete fabrication. Lennay Kekua never met Te’o and she never died. From all accounts, she never existed.
On Thursday, Cyd Zeigler Jr of OutSports reported on growing rumors that Te’o might have faked the relationship to cover up his homosexuality.
We’ve seen rumors and heard stories about countless athletes in the past. But not since Troy Aikman have I been bombarded on email, text, Twitter and phone calls about the sexual orientation of any athlete the way I was today about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
When his “girlfriend” proved to be a mirage, Te’o claimed he had been duped.
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.
But in numerous interviews, Te’o claimed to have laid eyes on Kekua—including at the 2009 football game where they allegedly first met—and to have spoken with her nightly on the phone.
Adding more confusion to the mix is Te’o's friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who allegedly created Kekua’s Twitter account back in 2008, and used it to meet unsuspecting men.
Te’o wasn’t the first person to have an online “relationship” with her. One mark—who had been “introduced” to Lennay by Tuiasosopo—lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead.
It wouldn’t be the first time a gay man had created a fake profile to attract straight guys. But why did Te’o go along? Why did he build on the ruse? Just last November Tuiasosopo and his family were on-field guests of Teo’s when Notre Dame played USC.
And Tuiasosopo was in a car accident about a month before Te’o told the press Kekua had one.
Just being attached this scandal could harm Teo’s chances of getting onto an NFL team later this year. But what if he ‘s gay—as blogs, forums and facebook walls are suggesting—would that excuse the hoax?
“If he is, I hope he finds strength and acceptance,” writes Zeigler on OutSports. “The vast majority of his friends, teammates and fans will support him whole-heartedly. If he’s not, I hope he can answer some questions, because people want to know why on earth he would concoct this totally fabricated story— including eight-hour phone calls— if they never happened.”
But if Te’o reveals he is gay, it could prove a disaster for him: Not because of his sexuality, but because of his betrayal of the public good. How much can be forgiven in the name of coming out?
As NFL Retweet tweeted, ”If Manti Te’o ends up being the 1st openly gay NFL player, this would be the worst prelude imaginable.”
Do signs point to Manti Te’o being gay—and would that make you forgive the hoax? Or does it sound like he’s just a really weird guy. Weigh in below in the comments section!