According to Deadspin, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had a relationship with dead girlfriend who did not exist.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I voted for Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o for the Heisman Trophy.
Go ahead and laugh.
I'd like to say that my vote was based solely on the tackles, interceptions and leadership that Te'o provided for the unbeaten Notre Dame team that forced its way into the BCS championship game. But I'm afraid I had a relationship with a guy who didn't really exist. Actually, I don't know what I know.
I'd heard the Te'o story – and it impressed me. He was more than just a tackling machine. I wasn't the only one who thought so. Te'o finished second to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the Heisman balloting. His narrative resonated.
People raved about his character from the moment that Te'o arrived in South Bend from Hawaii. But the Te'o story had moved into People magazine first-team, tearjerker material in September when it was revealed that he had played a magnificent game against Michigan State several days after both the linebacker's grandmother and girlfriend had died in a 48-hour period.
Maybe several other people died, too. With all the stories that have erupted today, I'm confused. Aren't you?
College football is packed with scoundrels. Score one for the good guys. When Kentucky visited Notre Dame for a basketball game Nov. 29, Te'o got more airtime than John Calipari. Dick Vitale and Dan Shulman interviewed him for what seemed like hours. He was front-and-center for the court storming when the Irish won. Pat Doney and I worked him into the package we did for the WDRB News.
The story, which was printed, broadcast and breathlessly hyped by national media outlets for months, almost seemed to good to be true.
Te'o's girlfriend – Lennay Kekua -- did not die. She did not battle leukemia, suffer through a car crash or overcome any other personal tragedy.
There was no girlfriend.
I repeat: There was no girlfriend. No obituary. No funeral. No death certificate. She was nothing more than a computer log-on who logged out of the linebacker's life in September.
She did not exist – as the website Deadspin outlined Wednesday in a story that did as much to wipe away the mythology around Notre Dame's season as the beatdown the Fighting Irish suffered against Alabama in the BCS Championship Game Jan. 7.
Not that we are close to having all the answers. People are aligning themselves in two camps:
On one side, Manti Te'o Sympathetic Scam Victim. On the other, Manti Te'o Liar, Liar Pants on Fire.
In response to the Deadspin story, Te'o issued a statement claiming that he was the victim of "someone's sick jokes and constant lies."
At 8 p.m. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick choked up and had to compose himself while appearing at a press conference where he reaffirmed his belief in Te'o's character and honesty. He went all-in on his star linebacker.
Swarbrick said Te'o discovered the hoax in early December when he received a phone call from the same number that he had associated with Kekua. But he waited until Dec. 26 to inform Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly of the scheme and then met with Swarbrick a day later.
Notre Dame employed a private investigator to unravel the details. Swarbrick said in early January the investigators told him they had uncovered on-line chatter that confirmed Te'o was indeed the victim of a hoax. More chatter about the way Te'o was played percolated on the Internet Wednesday evening.
It's allegedly called "catfishing," the on-line dating version of financial phishing, where the perpetrators create an on-line persona for the sport of tugging at somebody's emotions. Te'o was a big catch. He rocketed to the top of the Twitter-sphere Wednesday.
Swarbrick said the school did not contact law enforcement officials or publicize the story because it was Te'o's story to tell. He said he believes Te'o will answer questions soon, maybe on Thursday.
And the very first question will likely focus on this paragraph from a story that Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune wrote about Te'o and Kekua in October:
"Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago."
I do most of my work on-line with my laptop, but I have not discovered how to exchange glances or handshakes over the Internet. Somebody help me with that one, please. It's flu season. You've got to be careful which hands you shake.
There's more. Actually there is much more that Te'o will have to explain. Swarbrick said that he can – and that he will.
Some, especially the folks at Deadspin, wonder if Te'o was actually a participant in the hoax, using it to juice his candidacy for the Heisman and other awards. He won a string of them.
But after voting for Manti Te'o for the Heisman, I have to wonder if I had a relationship with a guy who didn't really exist.