Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Inspirational story of Te'o is KO'd

If you're a fan of Notre Dame football (which I am not), then you were likely taken in by the exceptional play of linebacker Manti Te'o this past season.

A candidate for the 2012 Heisman Trophy (awarded to the person voted most outstanding college football player that season), Te'o's stellar play on the field was in large part due to exceptional talent and work ethic. However, this season in particular, he appeared to playing with a a heavy heart.

His grandfather died first, on Jan. 27, the day after Te’o’s 21st birthday. He was a man, as Te’o’s father Brian put it, “who Manti had revered ever since he was born. That was his champion.”

Four months later, it was a cousin at birth, and in September, his grandmother.

And then, six hours after Te’o had been told of his grandmother’s passing, he got word that his girlfriend, stricken with leukemia, had died, too. His parents had been set to meet Lennay Kekua in November, at parents’ weekend. His father said he believed she could one day be his daughter-in-law.

Now, she was gone.

Shockingly, we now know that Ms. Kekua does not exist, and never did exist. The whole thing was a hoax. Te'o's only response thus far has been to release the following statement.

To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.

From that statement, a few questions come to mind:

It's obvious that there was never a Lennay Kekua. So are we to decipher that this relationship consisted strictly of online and telephone communication with someone perpetrating a ruse, suckering Te'o into believing there was a Lennay?

If the answer is "yes" to the previous inquiry, then how does one explain the following October 2012 quote from Te'o's father, Brian (emphasis mine)? "They started out as just friends," Te'o's father, Brian, told the Tribune in October 2012. "Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there." 

So did Te'o actually meet with someone who was pretending to be Lennay? I'm guessing the hoax was not that elaborate, so one could surmise that Te'o himself was in on this whole thing. But it's likely he did not act alone. There were several pictures of a beautiful young woman posted on a Twitter account supposedly belonging to a Lennay Kekua. From where did those photos originate?

Deadspin put together a very well researched article on this whole saga, including the origin of the aforementioned photos.

All of those photographs—with one important exception—came from the private Facebook and Instagram accounts of Reba (not her real name - ed.), whom we found after an exhaustive related-images search of each of Lennay's images (most of which had been modified in some way to prevent reverse image searching). We sent her a number of photographs that had appeared on Lennay's Twitter account, which is now private but apparently still active (see this retweet, for instance). One picture in particular brought Reba to a start. It had been used briefly as @LoveMSMK's Twitter avatar and later in the background of the page.

That photo hadn't appeared on the internet—at least, not to Reba's knowledge. She had taken it in December 2012 and sent it directly to an old high school acquaintance. The two hadn't talked since graduation, but the classmate, whom Reba remembered fondly, contacted her on Facebook with a somewhat convoluted request: His cousin had been in a serious car accident, and he had seen her photos before and thought she was pretty. Would she be so kind as to take a picture of herself holding up a sign reading "MSMK," to put in a slideshow to support the cousin's recovery? (He didn't explain what MSMK meant, and Reba still doesn't know.) Baffled but trusting, Reba made the sign and sent along the photo.

And now here it was on a dead girl's Twitter profile. After googling Lennay Kekua's name, Reba began to piece things together. She called up the classmate. He expressed alarm, Reba told us later, and "immediately began acting weird." "Don't worry about it," he told her. Moments after the phone call, Reba's picture was removed from the @LoveMSMK Twitter profile. Then, in a series of lengthy phone calls, Reba told us everything she knew about the classmate, a star high school quarterback turned religious musician named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

Definitely read the entire Deadspin piece for yourself. It goes on to quote sources that Te'o and Tuiasosopo are connected somehow, either being family or family friends. If that's the case, that would provide some circumstantial evidence that the two of them may have been the puppeteers guiding this very elaborate hoax.

As someone who is projected to be a high first round pick in the NFL draft, Te'o will have to come clean about everything he knows. There is no question this will be part of the scouting process.

While this story is very bizarre (bordering on surreal), I personally took comfort in one aspect of this whole saga. There was no young woman named Lennay Kekua who died from leukemia.


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