Complex Te'o hoax unravels

February 8, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Duped Heisman runner-up at a loss as more information comes out

News | Neil Vance for The Clarion

Complex Te'o hoax unravels

Photo for The Clarion courtesy of Robert Duyos/MCT

Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes love isn’t what it seems. Sometimes it is an escape from past experiences. And sometimes it is all those things rolled into one, as in the case of the recent hoax pulled on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

While the details are a bit messy, it seems as though the majority of the hoax was enacted by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Tuiasosopo created and acted as a fictional woman named Lennay Kekua and entered a relationship with Te’o, with Te’o being an innocent, if naive, victim. However, it is far from that simple.

One has a hard time pinpointing when contact between the two originally started, but the alleged relationship became meaningful last January when the two became a couple despite having never met in person. This is also around the time when Te’o was told Kekua had been diagnosed with leukemia.

Then, in September, everything got more serious. Kekua had allegedly been in the hospital receiving and recovering from a bone marrow transplant, but Te’o was told she was successfully released.

Just two days later, Te’o learned that his grandmother had passed away. This itself was obviously crushing news, but that tragedy was multiplied when he learned only hours later that Kekua had also supposedly died.

This double tragedy likely would have been enough to catapult Te’o into the public eye, but add that to the inspired play he exhibited against Michigan State that week, and even more so the next week against Michigan on the very night of Kekua’s supposed funeral (he had apparently promised Kekua, per her request, not to miss a game). What was perhaps more remarkable than his on-the-field play was his emotional interviews afterward, where he leaned heavily on his Mormon faith.

If it had ended there it would have been noteworthy enough, but this became a rallying point for both Notre Dame’s and Te’o’s successful seasons that culminated in a BCS Championship berth for the Fighting Irish and a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy race for Te’o.
But there was more.

On Dec. 6, Te’o got a call from the number he thought belonged to Kekua and he heard what he thought was her voice telling him that she wasn’t really dead. Te’o talked to his parents about the situation over Christmas break and eventually informed Notre Dame personnel.

However, neither Te’o nor the university went public with these suspicions of a hoax, and on Jan. 16 the story was leaked on Deadspin, setting off a media firestorm.

As investigations were conducted, the story continued to evolve, especially when Tuisasosopo came forward. He admitted to the complex hoax that included him imitating a woman’s voice for phone conversations with Te’o.

Tuisasosopo claimed the hoax was an escape from reality, a reality that included sexual abuse and what he called his own “confused” sexual feelings. He also claimed that he used the fake persona of Kekua to validate that he was a good person, but there are many questions still unanswered.

While Te’o himself was far from completely innocent in this story (he lied to his parents about meeting Kekua, and even after being cued in on the likely hoax, he still played up the situation in the media), it appears fairly certain he was never a part of the actual hoax.
So what are the takeaways from such a bizarre and complex story? Perhaps beyond just the obvious need to be mindful of online relationships ,it is a reminder that in this season filled with love, one must be cautious. For all the beauty it can bring, love can also be difficult, complex, painful and not what it seems.


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