It was a love story that pulled at the hearts of some of the most macho in the world: star athlete loses girlfriend and grandmother in the same week, right before a huge game. It was the love story of Manti Te'o and Lennay Kekau.
Kekua was allegedly one of the most unlucky women on the planet. After a tragic car accident, it was discovered that she had leukemia. She allegedly went through having a successful bone marrow transplant only to abruptly die the week of September 11, 2012.
The story was part of the lore surrounding Te'o's Heisman bid, and part of the lead in story for the BCS Championship. Te'o won the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the top defensive player of the year, at The Westin in Charlotte in December.
The only thing true about the love story is: Manti Te'o is a star athlete, who won numerous awards playing for Notre Dame, and Te'o's grandmother passed away on September 11, 2012. But the girlfriend part was all untrue.
Deadspin broke the story that Te'o's relationship with Kekua, which began online, was non-existent because Kekau never existed. News of this has taken flight on social media, sports radio, and in the world of journalism.
Is it possible that this young man was duped in an online hoax? MTv airs a show called Catfish that follows the lives of people who have carried on relationships via the internet with people they have never met. Many ask, "how can a person fall in love with someone who he or she has never met?" Truth is often stranger than fiction.
It happens more often than people care to admit. For instance, many years ago a gentleman killed a rival in an internet love triangle. Neither of the two men in the triangle had ever met the young lady, who was the object of their affections. From Daily Mail UK:
- Thomas Montgomery began an unplanned online affair with a girl he believed was 18-years-old called 'Jessi'
- Montgomery told 'Jessi' he was an 18-year-old Marine
- When Montgomery's wife discovered the affair she sent 'Jessi' a photo of her 46-year-old husband and their two children
- 'Jessi' broke off the affair and began a new one with Montgomery's 22-year-old co-worker Brian Barrett
- Montgomery became so jealous he shot and killed Barrett
- It turned out 'Jessi' was in fact a 45-year-old woman called Mary Shieler who used her own daughter's pictures to send to men online
Read more here.
So people do actually carry on internet relationships with never meeting or even seeing a real person alive and breathing. They do so for a myriad of reasons. Some people are socially awkward and struggle with meeting people in real life.
People get drawn into relationships through conversations that start out innocently enough, but grow deeper over time. The internet is a place where people can be whomever they want, so a fantasy created online can become very real in a person's life.
Online dating is a growing industry in the United States, increasing in popularity and profits every year. An estimated 40 million Americans have tried online dating and dating sites will collectively gross $2 billion in 2012. The proliferation of dating sites has become a cultural phenomenon as millions of users flock to find romantic partners online.
Although it is not clear whether Te'o is the victim of an online hoax, or that he perpetuated the hoax for some reason, is unknown to anyone at this point. Notre Dame's athletic director expressed in a press conference that Te'o discovered the hoax on December 26, 2012 and reported it to the school. The school enlisted the help of investigators and those investigators found the people responsible for the hoax.
Undoubtedly this story leaves more questions than answers.