It was hard enough believing Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o only learned in December that his fake online girlfriend Lennay Kekua hadn’t actually died of fake leukemia two months earlier. Now he tells ESPN he wasn’t totally sure she was even fake until as recently as Wednesday. That’s when Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (the joker pretending to be Kekua) tweeted Te’o that he and two others were actually behind the hoax — they later spoke by phone — and (incidentally) when Deadspin broke the whole story wide open. While insisting he’s as much a victim of this hoax as all those who believed his dead girlfriend sob story, Te’o does admit he “tailored” his side of the story so relatives and friends would think he’d “met [Kekua] before she passed away.”
As he told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap during the more than two-hour-long interview, he lied because:
I knew that — I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone — people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well. So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.
Sure, dating someone you’ve never met is a little odd, but some of the other details Te’o puts out there are just plain bizarre. Like Kekua’s fake brother Noah holding up the phone (with Te’o on the other end) to a fake ventilator that fake Kekua needed because she was in a fake coma. Or how Te’o “slept on the phone with her every night” after she awoke from the coma. Or how Te’o’s mother had whole long conversations with fake Kekua about her fake conversion to Mormonism.
Maybe that really intense weirdness factor will actually work in Te’o’s favor — the whole “reality stranger than fiction” defense. As Schaap said on SportsCenter this morning: “If he’s making up his side of the story, he’s a very convincing actor.” Then again, his side of the story still has several girlfriend-sized holes shining light through it.