Manti Te’o 'absolutely' not part of girlfriend hoax, Dr. Phil says
This post and headline have been corrected; see note at the bottom for details.After speaking with the 22-year-old Palmdale man who created Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend, Dr. Phil McGraw said he does not believe the football star was in on the scheme.
McGraw sat down with Tuiasosopo for an interview that will air starting Thursday. McGraw went on “Today” to talk about the interview earlier this week, and when asked if Te’o was involved, replied: “Absolutely, unequivocally no.”
Tuiasosopo pretended to be Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, for months, communicating on the phone and through social media. Tuiasosopo went so far as to disguise his voice to sound like a woman when he spoke to Te’o on the phone, his attorney, Milton Grimes, said in an interview with The Times.
Grimes said his client decided to come clean about the hoax in an attempt to “heal.”
“He knows that if he doesn’t come out and tell the truth, it will interfere with him getting out of this place that he is in,” Grimes said.
“This is part of my public healing,” Grimes quoted Tuiasosopo as saying.
McGraw, who spoke with Tuiasosopo for an interview set to air Thursday and Friday, described the 22-year-old as “a young man that fell deeply, romantically in love” with Te’o. McGraw, speaking on the “Today” show, said he asked Tuiasosopo about his sexuality, and the 22-year-old said he was “confused.”
“There were many times where Manti and Lennay had broken up before,” Tuiasosopo said. “They would break up, and then something would bring them back together, whether it was something going on in his life or in Lennay’s life -- in this case, in my life.”
Tuiasosopo’s comments add another twist to a story so bizarre that reporters from across the country have converged on Tuiasosopo’s home in the Antelope Valley. News of the hoax was first reported this month on the website Deadspin.com.
Tuiasosopo, the report said, was the mastermind behind the hoax and used photos from an old high school classmate and social media to connect “Kekua” with Te’o.
Over the year, Te’o repeatedly spoke to the media, including The Times, about his “girlfriend,” the car accident that left her seriously injured and the leukemia that led to her September death. The tale became one of the most well-known stories of the college football season as Te’o led his team to an undefeated season and championship game berth.
Te’o has denied any role in the ruse, saying he spent hours on the phone with a woman he thought was Kekua.
Those who know Tuiasosopo said they were baffled when they first learned of his involvement in the hoax. Neighbors and former high school coaches described him as popular, faith-driven and family oriented.
“I’ve done a lot of thinking about it,” Jon Fleming, Tuiasosopo’s former football coach at Antelope Valley High, said in the days after the ruse was revealed. “It’s all speculation. He’s goofy just like any other kid. The question that comes up in my mind is: ‘What could he possibly gain from doing something like this?’ It would really surprise me. What would he gain?”
Te'o said in an interview with ESPN that Tuiasosopo called to apologize for the hoax.
“I hope he learns,” Te'o said. “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.”
[For the record, Jan. 21, 2013, 8:37 a.m.: A previous version of this post and headline incorrectly attributed a quote about Te’o’s involvement in the hoax to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. It was Dr. Phil McGraw who, when asked whether Te’o was involved, said: “Absolutely, unequivocally no.”]