The first bits of Manti Te’o’s sitdown with Katie Couric, to air in its entirety tomorrow, are out now and are more of the same, smoothing out the calcifying conventional wisdom that the linebacker was “catfished.” Yes, the Notre Dame star and long-distance Internet boyfriend extraordinaire admits he lied to the media, keeping up the ruse of his season-defining tragedy even after it was clear his fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua never lived or died. “You know, what would you do?” he asks Couric in a teaser clip from ABC. “Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world, told me that she died on September 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on September 12.”
But we’ve heard some version of this, first from Notre Dame on the night Deadspin broke the story, and again from Te’o over the weekend in his chat with ESPN. That doesn’t mean we have all the answers.
Te’o’s is adhering closely to his script, doubtlessly crafted with PR mastermind Matthew Hiltzik (who also represents Couric), and so he’s not likely to drop any bombshells with Couric, or clarify the convoluted tale. And if Te’o is really as big of a sucker as he’s making himself out to be, it’s possible he doesn’t have the information to fill in gaps.
The man we want to hear from is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. The alleged creator of Lennay Kekua, only Tuiasosopo is likely to have the rest of the juicy answers in this saga. For instance:
Who was Te’o talking to all of those lonely nights?
According to Te’o’s interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, Tuiasosopo, another man, and a woman are behind the hoax:
JEREMY SCHAAP: Who was that person you talked to all those nights on the phone?
MANTI TE’O: Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing.
JEREMY SCHAAP: Who are they?
MANTI TE’O: I don’t know. I don’t know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah’s one.
JEREMY SCHAAP: One of the two?
MANTI TE’O: One of two guys and a girl.
JEREMY SCHAAP: So it wasn’t the same person playing the role of Lennay every night?
MANTI TE’O: I don’t know.
But Te’o spent months on the phone with Kekua: Who was dedicating all of that time on the other end? Did the three hoaxers take turns? If so, did Te’o really believe that three separate voices were the same person? Who are they and why did they go along with Ronaiah? Is Tuiasosopo really good at faking a female’s voice? (Here he is singing.) Did they use a voice-changing app?
“I slept on the phone with her every night,” Te’o told Schaap of Kekua’s supposed time in the hospital. “I’d have the phone on the whole night.” Schaap stated the obvious: “That’s a lot of phone time,” to which Te’o only said, “Yes.”
Why go through all this trouble?
Tuiasosopo is 22 years old and has been described by those who know him as a decent, good guy. What did he gain by orchestrating a con years in the making (and one that was allegedly used on other people). Schaap repeatedly asked Te’o whether Kekua asked for money and he insisted he never gave her any. Where’s the motivation, then, and what kind of person could pull this off?
What’s with the little kid?
According to Te’o, the one time he met Tuiasosopo was at a game against USC, when he arranged to bring a girl who was supposedly related to Kekua:
JEREMY SCHAAP: You’ve spoken to a little girl on the phone?
MANTI TE’O: Yeah, a little girl.
JEREMY SCHAAP: When? Throughout the course of this relationship?
MANTI TE’O: Yeah, throughout the course of the relationship. So when Lennay passed away, the only memory of Lennay that I had here, I felt was that little girl. So when I was in – before.
JEREMY SCHAAP: So somebody was putting what sounded like a little girl on the phone to talk to you?
MANTI TE’O: Uh-huh.
And Te’o thought nothing of Tuiasosopo’s presence: “[H]onestly, I was so focused on the girl,” he said. “He was, did the most talking, but I was more focused on how she was doing, so glad that she was there, that I wasn’t really paying attention to him and what he was saying.” How did this child get involved? Who does she belong to? Seriously — what?!
Tuiasosopo has reportedly been in touch to apologize not only to Te’o, but to the high-school classmate whose pictures he used as Kekua. “Ronny has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologized,” she told NBC. “I don’t think there’s anything he could say to me that would fix this.” But he could give us some context against which to judge Te’o’s assertion that he was the victim here. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Tuiasosopo family is plotting its response and it can’t come soon enough for those still taken with the case. We’ve heard enough from the poor sap who supposedly fell for it; if Te’o really did get played for this long, the most fascinating part was on the other end of the phone.
Here’s Te’o giving his side to Couric: