Mant'i Te'o's Fake, Dead Girlfriend Breaks the Internet

Mant'i Te'o's Fake, Dead Girlfriend Breaks the Internet

Published Jan. 16, 2013 12:00 a.m. ET

Manti Te'o is either the dumbest, most gullible man alive or he's a liar whose lies got too big.

Or maybe he's both.

That's the only conclusion you can draw from Deadspin's blockbuster story proving that Te'o's girlfriend, the one who died of leukemia at the same time as his grandmother, didn't actually exist.

I never thought I would have a more ridiculous college football story to write than the Bobby Petrino motorcycle imbroglio, but this one completely destroys it. I mean, shatters it beyond belief.


Honestly, I don't even know where to start.

There are so many tentacles of absurdity here that I'm going to try and dive in and unpack them one at a time. Let's begin with the fact that Notre Dame's press conference was every bit as ridiculous as the buttchugger press conference.

Notre Dame actually called a press conference to discuss Manti Teo's fake girlfriend.

Here's what we know according to AD Jack Swarbrick's statements tonight: Te'o believed that his girlfriend was dead until December 6th when he received a phone call from his "girlfriend's" number telling him that she was still alive. On this day Te'o was in Orlando for the ESPN awards show. Teo then waited 20 days -- 20 days -- to call his coaches and inform them of the potential hoax. The day after Te'o told his coaches he met with Swarbrick for nearly two hours on December 27th. The decision was made to have an independent investigation into the matter. Notre Dame also made the decision not to tell the public that Te'o's dead girlfriend was, in fact, fake and therefore incapable of dying. On January 4th Notre Dame received the findings of the investigative report which determined that the existence of Te'o's girlfriend was a "sophisticated hoax."

The next day Swarbrick met with Te'o and his family, whereupon the family received the details of that report.

No one knew anything else until Deadspin's blockbuster report this afternoon.

Now, let's dive into the questions that this ridiculous story raises.

1. According to Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, Mant'i Teo had a three year "exclusively online relationship."

If you believe there is a straight man on earth not currently in prison who has a three year exclusively online relationship, then you're a damn fool.


There's just no way this actually happens.

Especially for a college kid who happens to be the best player on a football mad campus.

It also conflicts with a South Bend Tribune story that included the following details about Te'o meeting his girlfriend in person:

"Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.

She was gifted in music, multi-lingual, had dreams grounded in reality and the talent to catch up to them.

The plan was for Kekua to spend extensive time with the whole Te'o family when upwards of 40 of them came to South Bend in mid-November for ND's Senior Day date with Wake Forest.

'They started out as just friends,' Brian Te'o said. '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. But within the last year, they became a couple. And we came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law. Sadly, it won't happen now.'"

You have to read this article about the relationship. Much of the explication of the meeting is done without quotes. Which leaves us with two questions: a. Was Te'o telling this story to the reporter, in which case he fabricated the entire meeting? or b. Was his father telling this story? In which case, Te'o would be lying to his father about how he met his girlfriend.

Either way this story directly implicates Te'o in telling a lie about how he met his girlfriend, either to his father, the reporter, or Jack Swarbrick.

So Notre Dame's contention that Te'o never lied is 100% false.

Update: the author of this article has said that Te'o's father was the source for the information about how the couple met. Presumably this information was a lie his son told him.

(Teo's dad also claimed that the couple had met multiple times in Hawaii. So that's a lie too. Presumably Te'o would have lied about this to his father.)

2. Te'o never met his girlfriend in person. 

I just can't get past this detail.

What's more, she purportedly canceled several face-to-face meetings with him. At some point if you're remotely intelligent -- or even just a horny college student -- don't you start to question a relationship when your online girlfriend won't meet you? Also, did Te'o and his girlfriend not Skype? (We know that Te'o Skyped because the South Bend Tribune story says that he Skype'd with his parents.) Did his girlfriend ever video chat with him? If not, wouldn't you find this pretty suspicious as well?) Did they video chat on iPhone? Is his girlfriend really not on Facebook? Are you really telling me that a straight football player has a relationship in this technological era and never asks for sexy pics of his girlfriend if they aren't meeting in person? (Somewhere Tiger Woods is shaking his head in disgust).  

I mean, come on this story is just flat out unbelievable.

Which leads me to...

3. Is Te'o gay?

As a gay muslim, I would happily welcome Te'o into the gay brotherhood. 

This is actually the only story that makes any sense at all. And even if it's true, Te'o will probably deny it because, unfortunately, football players aren't exactly the most welcoming of homosexuality.   

Otherwise, how are you the star player on a football crazy campus and having an online-only relationship with a woman you've never met? Even Tim Tebow thinks this is ridiculous. If you're gay and girls are throwing themselves at you left and right but you continue to rebuff their advances, isn't one of the easiest stories to tell your teammates about why you don't hook up with any of these girls that you have a girlfriend?

Even if, you know, that girlfriend isn't actually real.

Couldn't being gay even make you more than willing to overlook the fact that your girlfriend didn't want to meet with you? It might be that on some subconscious level Te'o welcomed the hoax because it kept him from having to explain why he didn't have a girlfriend. Furthermore, given that Te'o is Mormon and attending a very religious school, wouldn't being gay be unacceptable to pretty much everyone around him? Having an online girlfiend is an awfully convenient cover.

Again, this is just speculation and Te'o would probably deny it anyway, but it actually makes a ton more sense than any other wild theories being tossed out there, that Te'o used the online relationship as a cover for his hidden homosexuality. If this was true, I wish he'd just come out, I think most sports fans would welcome the revelation. (And some people are going to criticize me for writing about this, but it's the elephant in the room here that everyone is talking about, so I'm going to write it. Nothing in this story makes sense. And Te'o's lies as well as Notre Dame's cover-up of those lies, make everything fair game.)

4. How does no one in the media uncover that Lennay Kekua doesn't exist until the Deadspin report?

The media is hugely to blame here as well.

Let me repeat this, his girlfriend didn't exist!

Yet no one found out that one of the biggest stories this year was a complete hoax. How does this happen? Probably because it's a bit uncomfortable to do the dirty work and actually track down the death certificates and headstones. But this story is so specific it would have been easy to puncture it with about ten minutes of research. 

But no one did it. 

Not one media entity. 

Hell, not one random fan on a message board. 

No one.  

So the media is really at fault here. It just goes to show that once a story is written about -- here that came in the South Bend Tribune story -- many accept the story as a given from that point forward. (In the media's defense, did anyone really believe that Te'o's dead girlfriend was made up? I mean that's Enron and Bernie Madoff level foundational lies. Especially if, as Te'o alleged, he actually believed it to be true).  

No one in the media actually tried to speak to members of her family, no one on the Notre Dame beat ever checked to see where she was buried or whether she'd actually been a student at Stanford. That's despite the fact that Notre Dame played Stanford every year. Hell, did anyone even do a Google search on her to determine that she existed? (One of y'all also asked, how did no one at Stanford look this girl up? Especially once the story became huge. Wouldn't Stanford want to know if a young alum died?)

After all, Deadspin determined that she'd never attended or graduated from Stanford, since she'd never lived it was impossible for her to die, she wasn't even buried in a city that existed. Yet Sports Illustrated ran a cover story about Te'o talking on the phone for eight hours with this girlfriend every night. And ESPN ran multiple interviews about Te'o losing his grandmother and girlfriend within a few hours of each other without ever checking to see if the girlfriend was real.

Watch Te'o talk about his dead girlfriend on ESPN here:

The Sports Illustrated cover story was loaded with details about Te'o's dead girlfriend, you know, the one who never existed. It has since been pulled offline, but you can read it here.

"As Lennay struggled to survive, Te’o developed a nightly ritual in which he would go to sleep while on the phone with her. When he woke up in the morning his phone would show an eight-hour call, and he would hear Lennay breathing on the other end of the line. Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase."

Breathing would, of course, have required that Te'o's girlfriend be alive at all.

Later in the article comes this quote, "My girlfriend always told me, 'Send roses while they can still smell them, tell people you love them while they can still hear.'"

So Te'o's fake girlfriend even had a fake life mantra too?

In the words of Tom Brokaw, Sports Illustrated doesn't have egg on its face, they have an omelet.

That list includes: Sports Illustrated, ESPN, USA Today, CBS, NBC, Yahoo, and the Associated Press.

You will notice that Outkick the Coverage is not mentioned. That's because none of you guys (or me) were impressed enough with the hotness of the fake, dead girlfriend to draw our attention to her. (One of the craziest elements of this story is that the actual living girl -- whose picture that multiple media outlets used -- actually saw herself on TV as the dead girlfriend.)

So we escaped censure because Te'o's fake, dead girlfriend wasn't hot enough. 

This is why OKTC is now the most trusted source in sports media. You can damn well bet that all the girlfriends we feature are real.

And hot.

See, we're providing a public service.

5. According to multiple sources inside the network, ESPN had the story, but was waiting on Te'o for a sit-down interview.

Per the Big Lead, ESPN had the story for ten days.

That would mean that ESPN first got wind of the story before the BCS title game.

Ouch. (FYI, ESPN disputes that they had the story for ten days, saying instead that they had it for seven days).

What I was told is that ESPN wanted to have a sit-down with Te'o so the network could get his side of the story. But if you've got the goods can you really wait on a story like this? Of course not. Credit to Deadspin for doing all of the due diligence on this story and then not waiting too long for a comment.

Many will criticize ESPN in the coming days for not blowing this story up in advance of the BCS title game. And there will be many who ask: Did they slow play the story as a favor to the bigwigs at Notre Dame? I'm told that isn't the case, but I just don't understand how you wait on this story so you can get Manti Te'o on camera. How long does it take to confirm that the girlfriend doesn't exist once you get tipped off on this story? Not long, right? An investigative reporter named Mike Fish is credited on the ESPN story that links to Deadspin. Was he the only guy working on this story at ESPN?

If, as Deadspin has Tweeted, they've only had the story five days, how did it take ESPN twice that long to produce nothing?

Also, for you sports media conspiracy nuts out there, is it more convenient for ESPN if someone else breaks a story like this first?


Would it shock me if someone at ESPN tipped off Deadspin because the story was getting slowplayed? As a former Deadspin editor, it wouldn't be the first time that happened, so it wouldn't shock me at all.

6. How massive is this story?

ESPN credited Deadspin for a story.

Which is unheard of.

By the way, if I'd told you that by 2012 Deadspin would be the most trusted name in sports media, would you have ever believed me?

Probably not.

But it's true, Deadspin is the most trusted sports media source in the country.

7. Notre Dame encouraged Te'o to lie about the story.

This will be overshadowed, but once Notre Dame knew that the dead girlfriend story was a hoax on December 27th, it allowed the dead girlfriend hoax to be perpetuated through the BCS title game. In fact, AD Swarbrick said he told Te'o not to address the issue specifically if he was asked about it.

When he was asked about it at the BCS title pregame, Te'o said, "That event is well-documented and, you know, I think my team was always there for me and my family was always there for me....We all know about that and how I went through that and I don't think I need to say much about that."

You can hear Te'o's response to the question at the 12:40 mark of the video.

8. The details on this relationship are so amazing.

Each one more elaborate than the last.

She had a car accident, then leukemia, then chemo, and finally she died and Te'o never met her or her family?


Wouldn't this make him the worst boyfriend ever?

Did he really send white flowers to a funeral that didn't exist? I mean, how absurd is this to even think about? Maybe I'm an idiot, but I can't get past the flowers. Wouldn't they get returned if there wasn't a funeral for the person you sent them to? Or did Te'o's white flowers go to the wrong dead person?

Will the Te'o family share his cell phone bill and show us how many hours he spent talking with this girl? If you really were completely bamboozled by this entire charade, how gullible are you? And how heartless would the hoax perpetrator have to be to choose a few hours after his grandmother died to suddenly say that the girlfriend died too?

Talk about downright diabolical.

9. What's the motive to fake this relationship?

This is where I get hung up and the question I return to again and again. You're talking about hours and hours of effort to fake a relationship. What's the payoff? To humiliate someone? (And stop with your Catfish emails, I know all about the show). I just don't buy that there's someone who wants to sit on the phone for eight hours long night after night pretending to be near death with cancer so they can eventually say, "Gotcha!"

This is the biggest waste of time ever. Plus, it requires not only a fake girlfriend, but a fake brother. And maybe other fake family members too. What's the point of an entire conspiracy built around convincing Manti Te'o that his online girlfriend is real?

And that's what I can't get past, there just isn't a real motive to fake this relationship. There's no payoff, no pot of gold at the end of the long con.  

Watch this video beginning at 2:30 and look at how crazy this is. "She" wrote letters to him before every game?


Because if you boil down Notre Dame's story right now, what it tells us is that everyone else but Te'o lied. 

Only we know, at minimum, that Te'o lied about how he met his girlfriend.

Only, what does Te'o really gain by lying about his girlfriend dying? Is he really that calculating, that a grandmother dying in the middle of the season wasn't enough? That seems ridiculous too, right? I'm sure OKTC will have more on this in the morning, but for now the Manti Te'o story is officially the weirdest in college football history.

What do y'all think, is Te'o the most gullible man alive or did he lie about the relationship? Is he gay? Or did he really fall in love with a fake girlfriend who he never met in real life?

I have no idea what to believe about this story. 

Remember when the "scandal" was Brent Musburger talking about how beautiful Katherine Webb was?

Me too. 

Luckily for Outkick the Coverage, at least star SEC football players don't have fake girlfriends.