Manti Te'o tells Katie Couric: 'What I went through was real'
The girl turned out to be fake, but the emotions Manti Te'o felt at the time of her supposed death were real, the Notre Dame linebacker said.
Te'o spoke to ABC's Katie Couric for his first on-camera interview since news broke last week that his supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, did not exist. Segments of the conversation have been released in advance of the full interview, which will air Thursday on Couric's daytime talk show.
Te'o had spoken to reporters repeatedly about his supposed girlfriend and her battle with cancer, a story that captivated college football fans throughout the fall of 2012, when the Heisman Trophy runner-up helped his team to an undefeated regular season and to the national championship game.
When asked whether he had had something to gain by keeping that story alive, Te'o said: "The only thing I basked in is that I had an impact on people. That people turned to me for inspiration. ... My story, I felt, was a guy who, in times of hardship and in times of trial, really held strong to his faith, held strong to his family."
"Even if that hardship was perhaps exaggerated?" Couric asked.
"What I went through was real," Te'o said. "The feelings, the pain, the story. That was all real."
Te'o has denied a role in the ruse, but told Couric he lied about his girlfriend after receiving a December phone call saying Kekua was alive. Te'o had been told three months earlier Kekua had died of leukemia, he said.
"Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12," Te'o said. "Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6, saying that she's alive and then I'm going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?"
Te'o told Couric he didn't know if the story line helped propel him to the second-place finish in the Heisman race.
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, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, as the perpetrator of the ruse. The Deadspin.com report that revealed the hoax last week alleged that Tuiasosopo was involved in creating a Twitter account for a "Lennay Kekua" and connecting her with Te'o.
Tuiasosopo has not commented publicly on the allegations.
— Kate Mather and Matt Stevens