The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

January 20, 2013

Te'o answers questions, more likely to come

NEW YORK — Manti Te’o tried to put one of the strangest sports stories in memory behind him, insisting he was the target of an elaborate online hoax in which he fell for a fake woman created by pranksters, then admitting his own lies made the bizarre ordeal worse.

Whether his off-camera interview with ESPN was enough to demonstrate that the Notre Dame star linebacker was a victim in the scheme instead of a participant is still an open question.

The most important judges of the All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist may be pro football teams. Te’o has finished his coursework at Notre Dame and is preparing for the NFL draft at an elite training facility in Florida, where the 21⁄2-hour interview was conducted late Friday night.

ESPN reporter Jeremy Schaap said that the 21-year-old Te’o answered all his questions in a calm voice, and tried to clear up the mysteries and inconsistencies of the case.

Among the highlights:

* Te’o denied being in on the hoax. “No. Never,” he said. “I wasn’t faking it. I wasn’t part of this.”

* Te’o provided a timeline and details of his relationship with Lennay Kekua, his virtual sweetheart, who went through an array of medical calamities before “dying” of Leukemia in September, just hours after Te’o got real news of his grandmother’s death.

* He acknowledged that he lied to his father about meeting Kekua in person, then exacerbated the situation after her supposed death when he “tailored” his comments to reporters to make it sound as if their relationship was more than just phone calls and electronic messages.

“I even knew, that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone – people find out that this girl who died, I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her, as well,” Te’o said. “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away, so that people wouldn’t think that I was some crazy dude.”

In the same part of the conversation, Te’o said: “Out of this whole thing, that is my biggest regret. And that is the biggest, I think, that’s from my point of view, that is a mistake I made.”

* He detailed the confusing phone conversation he had on Dec. 6, when the woman who was posing as Kekua contacted him and told him one last hard-to-believe story about how she had to fake her own death to evade drug dealers. Te’o said it left him piecing together what exactly was going on over the next few days, when he was bouncing from interview to interview while taking part in the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York on Dec. 8 and another awards dinner in Los Angeles the next night. He mentioned his girlfriend in interviews at least three times over that period.

* Teo’ told ESPN that it was not until Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him Wednesday and confessed to the prank, that he finally believed Kekua was not real. Schaap said that Te’o showed him direct messages from Twitter in which Tuiasosopo admitted to masterminding the hoax.

 and apologized.

Schaap remarked to Te’o earlier in the interview that he still talked about Lennay as if she existed.

“Well, in my mind I still don’t have answers,” Te’o replied. “I’m still wondering what’s going on, what happened.”

Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since Deadspin.com broke the news of the hoax on Wednesday and identified him as being heavily involved

At the Tuiasosopo house in Palmdale, Calif., the family did not answer the door Saturday.  Cars remained parked outside and members of the media trickled in and out all afternoon, as a small pile of business cards and letters sat untouched on the front stoop of the two-story home.  

Whether Tuiasosopo ultimately confirms Te’o’s version of the story will go a long way toward determining where this saga is headed.

In the interview with ESPN, Te’o implied that he was not holding a grudge against Tuiasosopo.

“I hope he learns,” Te’o said. “I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough.”

Te’o was the emotional leader and best player on a Notre Dame team that went from unranked to playing for the program’s first national championship since 1988. And Te’o’s tale of inspired play while dealing with a double-dose of tragedy became the theme of the Irish’s unexpected rise and undefeated regular season.

Not until Te’o and the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS championship did the good times end. The Crimson Tide won in a 42-14 rout on Jan. 7, the hoax was then exposed and suddenly the dream season was tarnished.

So far no law enforcement agencies have indicated they are pursuing a criminal case in the scam, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a news conference earlier this week said the university was going to leave it up to Te’o and his family to pursue legal action.

Bennett Kelly, founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said a criminal case of fraud against the perpetrators probably wouldn’t work because it appears they took nothing of value (money or other items) from Te’o. The player said at one point the fake girlfriend asked for his checking account number but he declined.

A civil suit would be difficult as well, Kelley said.

“It’s not as easy as it’s often portrayed,” Kelley said. “The context has to be outrageous. There usually has to be some kind of physical manifestation. It can’t just be that it was a bummer.”

Swarbrick said from the start that it didn’t seem as if laws were broken or NCAA rules violated. He had publicly encouraged Te’o to give his side of the story.

“Manti put this to rest for me and the University long ago,” Swarbrick said in a text message to the AP on Saturday. “I am just glad that everyone (at least everyone open to the facts) now knows what we have long known – that a great young man was the innocent victim of a very cruel hoax.”

While fans and the members of the media might not be satisfied with where Te’o has left it, he won’t necessarily be compelled to answer to them – just to potential employers starting in February.

At the NFL combine, Te’o will have his physical skills and fitness tested, and he will be interviewed by NFL executives and coaches. He has been projected as a potential first-round draft pick. If his involvement in this hoax sets off red flags for teams and it causes him to slip in April’s draft, it could cost him millions of dollars.

Said former Dallas Cowboys general manager and NFL draft consultant Gil Brandt: “Between now and 97 days from now when the draft comes, there’ll be a lot of people investigating just what took place.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • SRU vs UPJ baseball0418 1 UPJ takes one, drops second

    John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
    Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 17, 2014

  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Hawks already building toward next season

    Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
    Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.

    April 16, 2014

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo