Manti Te’o has spoken. The Notre Dame star linebacker spoke to ESPN in a lengthy, off-camera interview and insisted he “never, not ever” was involved in creating his fictional girlfriend. In his first sit down with a reporter since Deadspin broke news that his girlfriend was fake, Te’o claimed he was the victim of a hoax, although acknowledged he “tailored” his stories so people would think he had met “Lennay Kekua.” (Watch video of ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap recounting the interview after the jump.)
Te’o paints himself as a man who feared what people would think if they found out he had never met his girlfriend so he lied to his father about having met Kekua. He says he didn’t know for certain that Kekua didn’t exist until Wednesday, “when Ronaiah Tuiasosopo called Te’o and admitted he was behind the hoax,” according to ESPN. "When (people) hear the facts, they'll know," he said. "They'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this."
Some of Te’o’s answers are difficult to believe, to say the least. Even though he said he talked to the person claiming to be Kekua “every night … and I’d have the phone on the whole night,” when ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap asked why he never went to visit her in the hospital, he replied: “It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school.” Te’o does say he tried to talk to her via Skype and FaceTime several times but “the person at the other end of the line was in what he called a ‘black box’ and wasn't seen.” He also planned to meet her several times in person but she backed out each time.
It didn’t take Deadspin long to ask some uncomfortable questions about Te’o’s version of events. How could Te’o say he didn’t really know Kekua was a hoax until Wednesday when Notre Dame officials had carried out an investigation and shared the findings with Te’o’s parents?
Deadspin isn’t alone. ESPN also raises some questions even if it doesn’t do it as directly. Te’o says he received a call on Dec. 6 from a woman claiming to be Kekua, whom he believed to have died months earlier. “You know what? Lennay, my Lennay, died on Sept. 12,” Te’o supposedly told the caller. But that didn’t stop him from referring to Kekua as his girlfriend several times after Dec. 6.