The ongoing saga of Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend, “Lennay Kekua,” continues to amaze and confound. We’re now a couple days removed from Deadspin’s initial bombshell report, and since then several people connected with either Te’o or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man said to be behind the hoax, have spoken about their knowledge of the fiasco. Te’o himself hasn’t spoken up beyond a statement he released shortly after Deadspin broke the story, and obviously people are clamoring to hear more from him.
But in the absence of that, since so many new mini-developments are still emerging, we thought it might be helpful to recap where this story is right now, and where it may yet go (spoiler: a lot of that depends on what Te’o says whenever he finally talks again). So, without further ado, a guide to the Manti Te’o Fake Dead Girlfriend Saga:
What of this Ronaiah Tuiasosopo character?
Well, things have gotten more interesting on this front today. ESPN’s Shelley Smith reported that she talked to a woman who told her that Tuiasosopo admitted to her that he orchestrated the whole thing, with the help of two cousins. Te’o, according to this woman, was not involved. What’s more, this woman told Smith that Tuiasosopo has pulled off this same hoax before, and duped other people, with the same character of “Lennay Kekua.”
In addition, Te’o’s uncle Alema went on the radio and said he always had a bad feeling about Tuiasosopo, and suspected him of wanting to get close to Te’o for financial reasons. He called him a “shady character,” and based on what we’ve learned of Tuiasosopo to this point, that’s hard to argue.
Wait – so this guy goes to all this trouble to invent that elaborate a lie, and he can’t even change the name of the fake girlfriend for all the different times he tries to pull it off?
But this “Lennay Kekua” was definitely a fake.
Well, aside from the bizarre twist where an Arizona Cardinals player claimed to have met her in the flesh, yeah, that part’s not in dispute. However, it’s worth noting that the person whose picture was used as “Kekua’s” is real, and was recently identified as Diane O’Meara (pictured at left, photo via). One more person in the story unmasked.
And what about Te’o? Today’s ESPN report said he wasn’t involved, but I still find that hard to believe.
Basically, there are three possibilities here for Te’o, none of which are especially desirable. They are:
1) This new report is entirely correct. He was completely hoodwinked the whole time.
2) This new report is wrong, and he was in on it the whole time, scheming to achieve greater notoriety.
3) Te’o was duped to begin with, but then later got wise to it and kept up the facade of the lie in public, either out of embarrassment or because he realized the general public was eating the story up.
Option 3 still makes the most sense to us. Getting duped on the internet happens a lot. The Te’o case has moved others to share their stories. It happens. But for it to happen for that long, and for him to keep talking about “her” even after he supposedly found out she never existed? It makes it almost unfathomable that he’s entirely innocent.
And what about that rumor/conspiracy theory that Te’o did all this to hide being gay?
That’s all it is – a rumor/conspiracy theory, one we’d tend to doubt. Because for it to be true, Te’o would have needed to be in on the hoax, while we think he was actually duped at first. And if TMZ’s little number from today about Te’o quietly dating an actual woman in the wake of learning his previous girlfriend wasn’t real is correct (and that’s a sizable if), then there’s another hole in that idea. At least it gave us this Mike Francesa call.
Still, seems like it’s about time for Te’o to speak up and address all this head-on.
That’s the natural instinct, to think Te’o ought to salvage whatever is left of his ability to get in front of this story. His initially-reported sit-down with Jeremy Schaap fell through – what now? Well, there’s going to be something – Te’o’s reportedly still trying to figure out his next move.
But we’re not so sure anymore that Te’o’s hurting himself by not saying anything immediately. Think about it – how much more embarrassing can this get for him? He has released a statement, so that’s (slightly) more than nothing, and the conclusion some, including us, have reached – that he was initially the victim of a hoax, then kept it going after he learned it was all a lie – at least makes him slightly sympathetic.
There’s an argument to be made that Te’o might be doing himself a disservice because he runs the risk of letting the story die down, then speaking and having it all blow up again. But we also wonder if a big part of the reason everyone thinks he should talk is just that we want him to. We want more scandal, we want our minds blown all over again, we want this beast of a story well-fed – so we, in turn, can feast on it ourselves. The surest way for that to happen is for Te’o to talk.
Oh – what was this about these people who knew about the scam and were tweeting to each other about it in December?
Yeah, that happened. Some people knew.
So why did no one else know before Deadspin’s story?
Well, no one looked hard enough because no one who covered Te’o thought this could possibly be a fake. The takeaway from Pete Thamel’s interview transcript with Te’o was: there were warning signs in hindsight, but nothing powerful enough to overcome the sight of a kid sitting across from you talking about his dead girlfriend, at times becoming choked with emotion. Safe to say, thanks in part to Thamel laying everything out there, everyone’s (hopefully) going to be more careful next time.
Where does this go from here, exactly?
No idea. Te’o has to speak to know for sure, and the direction of the story from there depends on what he says and how he says it. Our guess is that he’ll continue to emphasize that he was a victim, and in the process not change a whole lot about anyone’s perception of the story. But whenever he talks, we’ll all be listening, and we’re real interested to see where he goes in the draft, though, that’s for sure.
You’ve had a couple days to digest it now. Is there any way you can briefly encapsulate your feelings on this story?
Like this. Even now.
Te’o photos via Getty