Manti Te'o says he continued to lie briefly after learning of hoax
In his first on-camera interview since news broke that his supposed girlfriend did not exist, Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o admitted that he briefly continued to lie about the woman after learning of the hoax.
Te'o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, talked to ABC's Katie Couric about the scandal, revealed by Deadspin.com last week. A segment of the Couric interview aired Wednesday; ABC said the full interview will be shown Thursday.
After more than a year of corresponding on social media and by telephone with someone he thought was Lennay Kekua, Te'o said he was told in September that the woman had died of leukemia. Three months later, the player got a call from a phone number he recognized as Kekua's, with the voice on the other end telling him Kekua wasn't dead.
On Dec. 26, Te'o told Notre Dame officials that he had learned his girlfriend did not exist, the university said. In an interview with ESPN, Te'o denied a role in the ruse.
In a segment of the Couric interview that aired Wednesday, Te'o said he didn't lie about Kekua until after he received the December call.
"You stuck to the script," Couric said.
"Mm-hm," Te'o said, nodding.
"And you knew something was amiss, Manti," Couric said.
"Mm-hm," Te'o said, again nodding. "Correct."
"Well, if anybody put yourself in my situation ... Katie, put yourself in my situation," Te'o said. "This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12. Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6 saying that she's alive? And then I'm going to be put on national TV two days later? ... What would you do?"
Te'o's parents joined him for the interview. His father wiped away tears as he defended his son.
"People can speculate about what they think he is. I've known him 21 years of my life," Brian Te'o said, dabbing his eyes. "And he's not a liar. He's a kid."
Both Te'o and a Southern California woman whose photos were apparently used in the ruse have identified a Palmdale man as the perpetrator of the ruse. The Deadspin.com report alleged that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was involved in creating a Twitter account for a "Lennay Kekua" and connecting her with Te'o, who spoke to the media repeatedly about his girlfriend and her supposed battle with cancer.
The woman whose photos were used as part of the hoax, a 23-year-old woman who works for a Torrance marketing group, said she went to high school with Tuiasosopo but denied any role in the hoax.
Diane O'Meara told "Today" she had never heard of Te'o until news of the scandal broke.
"I've never met Manti Te'o in my entire life," she said. "I've never spoken with him, I've never exchanged words, tweets [with him]."
Tuiasosopo has not commented publicly about the allegations. Both O'Meara and Te'o have said in interviews that he had contacted them.
"Ronny has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologized," O'Meara said. "But I don't think there's anything he could say to me that would fix this."
— Kate Mather and Matt Stevens
Photo: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o pauses during an interview with ESPN on Friday. Credit: Ryan Jones / ESPN Images