Ronaiah Tuiasosopo publicly tells of 'feelings' for Manti Te'o
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, spoke publicly for the first time regarding the allegations in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw, set to air Thursday and Friday. The interview began when Tuiasosopo confirmed he was the one behind "Lennay Kekua," the girlfriend Te'o met online and was told died of leukemia in September.
Tuiasosopo told McGraw that Te'o "had no idea" Kekua did not exist. In other interviews, Te'o has denied perpetrating the ruse.
"He had no involvement," Tuiasosopo said. "He did not know anything."
Tuiasosopo said he considered Kekua another part of him and realized the more he communicated with Te'o the more his own feelings become involved. The two shared common values and bonded over faith and family, he said.
"As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person," he said of Te'o. "I did all that I could to make this person a better person, even though I wasn't getting nothing out of it."
"Of course it's very shameful and very painful to talk about," Tuiasosopo continued. "But the truth of it that ... I grew feelings. I grew emotions that sooner or later I couldn't control anymore."
When McGraw asked Tuiasosopo about his sexuality, he replied: "If you look at this situation and look at everything I've been through, I would say, yeah, I am gay. But honestly, I'm so confused and I'm so lost and I'm just finding me."
"You've heard of recovering drug addicts?" he said. "It takes a lot of courage to stand and say that. To recover from homosexuality and this type of thing. Not only that, coming back to your real life, as hard as a task as that is, I'm going to do all that I can to live right."
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 earlier 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.
During the college football season, 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 same day Te'o's grandmother died. The tale became one of the most well-known sports stories of the year as Te’o led his team to an undefeated season and championship berth.
Tuiasosopo said he killed Kekua after a fight with Te'o over whether the football player had been Skyping with other girls. During the argument, Te'o said he "didn't need" Kekua, Tuiasosopo said.
"Me, Ronaiah, I was hurting. It hit me like a brick wall," Tuiasosopo said. "I was like, `Whoa, I've given so much into this.’ And I realized right then in that moment, that I poured so much into Lennay, that I myself was getting nothing, and look what I was left with.”
"I was crying that morning," he continued. "I was hurt, so right then and there I made this decision: 'I can't do this Lennay thing anymore.' I ended it."
Three months later, Tuiasosopo said he called Te'o and told him Kekua was alive. When asked why he reached out again, Tuiasosopo said he wanted to "come clean and make everything right."
"I felt like, even if we ended this and we moved on with our lives and this wasn't brought back up and the truth wasn't known ... we wouldn't truly be moving on," he said. "It just wasn't the truth."
— Kate Mather and Matt Stevens
Photo: Talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw interviewed Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old Palmdale man behind an elaborate hoax involving Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o. The interview marks the first time Tuiasosopo has spoken publicly about the allegations. Credit: CBS Television Distribution/Peteski Productions