Controversy surrounds Te’o
Andrew Owens | Thursday, January 17, 2013
Lennay Kekua, the girl believed to have been former Irish linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend and who was reported to have died of leukemia in September, never existed.
After an afternoon of questions and swirling controversy, Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick addressed the situation, originally reported by Deadspin.com, at a press conference Wednesday evening.
Swarbrick said Te’o received a phone call from the number he associated with Lennay Kekua while he was in Orlando in early December for an ESPN awards show that took place Dec. 6.
“When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same voice he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead,” Swarbrick said.
Following the phone call that day, Te’o received what Swarbrick called “persistent” contact from the number; the frequency dissipated in time because Te’o stopped responding, Swarbrick said.
Te’o waited to act on the situation until he went home for Christmas on Dec. 21 because he wanted to speak with his family about it in person, Swarbrick said. When he returned to campus, Te’o alerted head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco before Swarbrick was notified.
Swarbrick said he met with Te’o on Dec. 27 and 28 after the linebacker returned to campus for practice leading up to the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game. In those meetings, Swarbrick interviewed Te’o about the chain of events.
“I want to stress, as someone who has probably been as engaged in this as anyone in the past couple of weeks, that nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota,” Swarbrick said. “The same great young man, great student and great athlete that we have been so proud to have be a member of our family is the same guy tonight, unchanged in any way, except for, as he indicated in a statement in his release, the embarrassment associated with having been a victim in this case.”
Following the meetings, Swarbrick met with University leaders and they made the decision to acquire the services of an independent investigative firm. Swarbrick said he met with Te’o’s parents – Brian and Ottilia Te’o – on Jan. 4, and the family made the decision to release the story sometime the week of Jan. 20.
Swarbrick refused to release many of the details regarding Te’o’s perceived relationship with Kekua, saying it’s “Manti’s story to tell.” He added that the University does not plan to publish the investigative firm’s results. Swarbrick said he does not know the details of when or how Te’o plans to speak about this, but said it could come as early as Thursday.
Swarbrick said authorities have not been alerted to the case, due in large part to the lack of criminal activity such as extortion.
Swarbrick said Te’o never met with anyone claiming to be Kekua in person and that the entire relationship was conducted electronically and over the telephone. Te’o had spoken of falling to sleep in bed with Kekua on the line in a story that appeared in the Oct. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated.
“There were lengthy, long telephone conversations,” Swarbrick said.
“The issue of who it is, who’s playing what role, what’s real and what’s not here is a more complex question than I can get into.”
The comments contradicted published reports in October that Te’o met Kekua in person in Palo Alto, Calif., in Nov. 2009 when Notre Dame played at Stanford over Thanksgiving weekend.
“I’ll let Manti provide the details, but as I said earlier in this press conference, when Manti took me through the entire story from start to finish, when he first described the contact, he used the verb ‘met,'” Swarbrick said. “For him, the fact that they connected online, that they met online, was consistent with using that verb.
“Not one that I might have chosen, but it was for him. And the timing was consistent with the playing of that game.”
Stanford University spokesperson Lisa Lapin issued the following statement to The Observer regarding Kekua’s alleged enrollment at the school:
“We’ve had no student attending Stanford by that name or any other similar name.”
Additionally, Dan Anderson, an employee at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner, told The Observer there is no record of Lennay Kekua or anyone with a similar name dying in the county from Sept. 11 to 13. It had been reported that Kekua died in Carson, Calif., sometime around those dates.
Te’o released a statement to ESPN Wednesday afternoon in which he said the situation has been “painful and humiliating.”
“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. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her,” Te’o said.
“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.”
Until Te’o speaks in more detail, the controversy surrounding the star player who helped return Notre Dame to national prominence on the field will continue to build. But Swarbrick made it clear throughout Wednesday’s press conference that Te’o has the University’s full trust and support.
“There’s a lot of tragedy here,” Swarbrick said. “There’s a lot of sorrow here. But the thing I am most sad of, sad about is … that the single most trusting human being I’ve ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life. That’s an incredible tragedy.”
Contact Andrew Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org