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Thu Apr 17 12:15:22 SAST 2014

Te'o briefly lied in fake girlfriend hoax

Sapa-AFP | 24 January, 2013 08:400 Comments
Manti Te'o Workout at IMG Academy
Linebacker Manti Te'o of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish works out at IMG Academy on January 23, 2013 in Bradenton, Florida
Image by: J. Meric / Getty Images

Collegiate American football star Manti Te’o said in an interview to be aired on Thursday that he was not part of creating the elaborate hoax of a fictional girlfriend but briefly lied about the situation.

Te’o, a 21-year-old linebacker of Samoan ancestry, sparked Notre Dame into the US college gridiron title game, was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy as top player and is a hot prospect in April’s National Football League Draft.

But last week, it was revealed that the girlfriend Te’o thought had died last September, a woman he had never met but had become involved with in telephone calls and internet contacts, did not actually exist.

Hawaiian-born Te’o gave his first televised interview about the situation to syndicated talk show host Katie Couric on Tuesday and excerpts from the conversation were aired on ABC ahead of a Thursday telecast.

Te’o said he was not part of the hoax and merely lying to gain greater attention but was truly tricked into an emotional relationship and then believed his on-line girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of cancer in September.

On December 6, Te’o received a phone call from the woman who pretended to be Kukua claiming she was alive.

Two days later, Te’o faced an interview at the Heisman Award ceremony and decided not to make the latest revelation public knowledge when asked about his girlfriend’s death.

“Put yourself in my situation,” Te’o said. “I, my whole world told me that she died on September 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on September 12.

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

Brian Te’o tearfully defended his son to Couric, saying, “He’s not a liar. He’s a kid.” 

The woman whose photograph was used as the face of Kekua told NBC that her image was used without her knowledge or consent by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo to pull off the hoax, adding that she has never met or contacted Te’o in any way.

Te’o told ESPN that Tuiasosopo apologised to him for the hoax in a Twitter message but Tuiasosopo has not admitted publicly any involvement in the hoax.

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