Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te'o faced two tragedies this season as he helped the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reach the BCS National Championship game. On Sept. 12, his 72-year-old grandmother, Annette Santiago, died. Just six hours later, Te'o said he was told that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua had died as well, after a battle with leukemia.
Except that Lennay Kekua never existed. The story broke on Wednesday, via Deadspin. Deadspin said it could find no record of Kekua, alive or dead, and the story was confirmed later in the day by Notre Dame.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference (embedded). There, he said that the university had known of the hoax as early as Dec. 26. ON that date, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents he had been the victim of what seemed to be a hoax.
Someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua "apparently ingratiated herself" with Te'o, Notre Dame said. That person then conspired with others to lead him to believe Kekua had died of leukemia.
According to Deadspin's report, they have been told by friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is a high school classmate of Te'o, that they believe he made Kekua up. It is unclear why.
What is also unclear is how there could possibly be stories of Te'o and Kekua meeting. The only photos that have been found online of Kekua are actually pictures of another 22-year-old woman, according to Deadspin. That woman was not named in the report, but said she never met Te'o and that at least one of those photos was likely shared by Tuiasosopo.
How then, could Te'o have met Kekua on Nov. 28, 2009. Deadspin said:
Te'o and Kekua meet after Stanford's 45-38 victory over Notre Dame in Palo Alto, according to the South Bend Tribune: "Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes." Kekua, a Stanford student, swaps phone numbers with Te'o.
Why, also, did Notre Dame hold the information for so long? It might have been understandable for them to hold it until after the BCS Championship game, which Notre Dame lost to Alabama, but they held it even longer than that. Notre Dame said it was expected Te'o would have had his own press conference next week, but was beaten to it.
The story is still extremely confusing. Te'o did not appear at the Notre Dame press conference, and Swarbrick said Te'o would have to address further questions himself.
Te'o finished second in the Heisman race, and is currently ranked no. 8 on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's draft board.
The story is not over, by any means.