Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o was fooled into believing a woman he met online and developed a friendship with had died, the University of Notre Dame said.
Te’o was the victim of “what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia,” the school said in a statement last night.
Deadspin.com reported that it could find no record of Kekua. There was no record of her death with the Social Security Administration, and no obituary or funeral announcement, the website said. Stanford University, which she was supposed to have attended, has no record of her registration, it said.
“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about but, over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” Te’o said in a 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.”
Notre Dame hired an investigative firm after also finding no evidence the woman was real, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said.
“Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota,” Swarbrick said last night during a news conference.
Kekua supposedly died in September, the same week as Te’o’s grandmother.
The Fighting Irish went undefeated during the season until the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 7, which they lost 42-14 to Alabama.
Te’o in December finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. He received the Nagurski Award as college football’s best defensive player and the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. Having graduated, he’s now preparing for the National Football League draft.
“Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL draft,” he said.