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Notre Dame’s Te’o Tells Couric He Briefly Lied About Girlfriend

Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) -- University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o said in an interview with Katie Couric that he briefly lied to the media after learning he was caught in a hoax involving a fake online girlfriend.

Te’o, 21, had previously told ESPN that he wasn’t a part of fabricating the story. In excerpts of the taped interview that aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show, Te’o said he was fooled into believing his fake girlfriend had died of leukemia in September and didn’t lie about the situation until December, when he became aware she didn’t actually exist.

“Put yourself in my situation,” Te’o said in an excerpt from the interview with Couric today. “My whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died Sept. 12.”

Te’o said he received a phone call on Dec. 6 from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, even though she had supposedly died three months earlier. Two days later, Te’o finished second to Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel in voting for the Heisman Trophy, presented annually to college football’s best player.

“Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying she’s alive and then I’m going to be put on national TV two days later,” he said. “And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?”

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Notre Dame, which lost to the University of Alabama in college football’s championship game this month, said on Jan. 16 that Te’o had been the victim of a hoax in which someone purporting to be Kekua ingratiated themself with him and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she died. Te’o said in a statement at the time that he was the victim of “someone’s sick joke” and last week told ESPN in an off-camera interview that he wasn’t involved in the hoax to bolster his image and candidacy for postseason awards.

Te’o also told ESPN that he received a Twitter message from a former friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who apologized for orchestrating the hoax.

ABC and ESPN both are units of the Walt Disney Co. Couric and Te’o share a public relations representative, Matthew Hiltzik.

Te’o received the Nagurski Award as college football’s best defensive player and the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker last season. Having graduated, he’s preparing for the National Football League draft.

Te’o was joined by his parents, Brian and Ottilia, for the taped interview, which will air on the syndicated daytime talk show “Katie” tomorrow.

“People can speculate about what they think he is,” Brian Te’o told Couric as he wiped away tears. “I’ve known him 21 years of his life. He’s not a liar. He’s a kid.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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