Manti Te’o has spoken, though not with a press conference, but instead with a Friday night off-camera interview with ESPN. The question now will be: How much of what he said makes sense and how much of what he said will be believed.
Te’o spoke to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in a 2 1/2 interview. He spoke from the IMG Training Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he is preparing for the NFL draft. There were no cameras at the interview, which was recorded solely on audio.
A short video report on the interview is embedded.
His statements were explanatory, yet still confusing. He said he did not know for certain that “Lennay Kekua” did not exist until Wednesday, when Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — who has been mentioned before as the perpetrator — both contacted Te’o on Twitter and called him, as well, admitting that he was behind the hoax.
Te’o said he received a Twitter direct message from Tuiasosopo where Tuiasosopo said he was the perpetrator, along with one other man and a woman. Te’o later spoke to Tuiasosopo on the phone Wednesday. Tuisasosopo did not receive any names.
Manti Te’o said quite clearly: “I wasn’t faking it. I wasn’t part of this.”
He admitted lying about meeting her, and explained why he lied to so many people — including his family — when he said he had met Kekua face-to-face, Kekua said, “I knew that — I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet, and that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well … So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away so people wouldn’t think I was some crazy dude.”
He added that he scheduled times and dates to meet Kekua in person — several times — including meetings in Los Angeles and Hawaii. Each time, though, Kekua would cancel the meeting or sent others instead. No red flags, though.
Why didn’t he at least Skype, Google Talk, FaceTime or use some other visual method to chat with her and see her, as well? Te’o said he did, but every time the person on the other end of the call was in what he called a “black box” and couldn’t be seen. Still no red flags.
Although Te’o never gave Kekua any money, he did say that she once asked him for his checking account number number so she could send money to him. He did not provide it, and for some reason this still didn’t trigger any red flags. It’s unclear exactly when in the on-and-off four-year-long relationship she asked for the info.
It wasn’t a full four year relationship, though. While their relationship began, Te’o said, when Kekua sent him a friend request on Facebook during the winter of his freshman year at Notre Dame. they would take breaks, with intermittent contact.
Te’o said, “My relationship with Lennay wasn’t a four-year relationship. There were blocks and times and periods in which we would talk and then it would end.”
After Kekua told him her father had died, though, Te’o said their relationship escalated. “She told me her dad passed away, and I was there. I was that shoulder to cry on. And I kind of just naturally cared for the person. And so our relationship kind of took another level. But not the kind of exclusive level yet,” implying, it seems he dated others face-to-face.
Stories of him listening to her breathe on the phone after her “car accident” appear to be true. Te’o said, “I’d be on the phone. And she had complications from the accident, and she said the only thing that could help her sleep was if I was on the phone. So I would be on the phone, and I’d have the phone on the whole night.”
When asked why he didn’t visit Kekua in the hospital, he said, “It never really crossed my mind. I don’t know. I was in school.”
Te’o said that in late June or early July, Kekua and her brother told him she had leukemia.
In terms of her fictitious death, on Sept. 12, his mother and father called Te’o to tell him his grandmother had died. He said Kekua called him after his grandmother’s death.
“I was angry. I didn’t want to be bothered. So Lennay was just trying to be there for me. I just, I just — I just wanted my own space. We got in an argument. She was saying, ‘You know, I’m trying to be here for you.’ I didn’t want to be bothered. I wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to be by myself. [The] last thing she told me was ‘Just know I love you.'”
Later that day, Te’o was told Kekua had died from leukemia.
As for why he didn’t attend her “funeral,” he says, “Her mom told them [his family] they did not want me to come.” In addition, he added, “I didn’t want that to be the first time that I saw her was laying in a coffin.”
Finally, on Dec. 6, a woman called from the number Kekua had used, saying, “Manti, it’s me.” Earlier, it was reported that she told him she had faked her death to escape drug dealers.
Finally, he realized — he had been hoaxed.
Manti concluded, saying “I hope he [Tuiasosopo] learns. I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough. I’ll be OK. As long as my family’s OK, I’ll be fine.”
It is unclear if this is the conclusion to the story, but there seems to be further questions looming. How will this effect his placement in the NFL draft? He had been expected to be a top 10 pick.
While it would seem that — assuming this is all true — Te’o is only guilty of bad judgment, it’s something that NFL teams look at, meaning judgment and intelligence. The NFL draft begins on April 25.