A heart-wrenching thread through this past college football season was that of Manti Te'o, a well-liked Heisman candidate from Notre Dame whose girlfriend Lennay Kekua, a reported Stanford student, died of cancer the same week that Te'o's grandmother passed away.
But on Wednesday, one of Nick Denton's websites, Deadspin, reported that Kekua wasn't a real person. At the very least, Te'o, who, some have argued, used Kekua's story to boost his popularity in college football, was "Catfished" by a group of soul-less Internet pranksters. Or, at the very worst, was in on the hoax the entire time.
Te'o, in a statement, said it was the former. But on Wednesday night a Twitter account with the same name that had reportedly began the lore of Lennay Kekua in the first place tweeted the following (though there was no way to verify the account's owners):
It isn't fair to drag Reagan and Troy into this.. a lot of truths and myths need to be addressed here, and they will be at noon PST tomorrow— L K (@LennayKay) January 17, 2013
The account follows two NFL players: Troy Polamalu and Reagan Maui'a. Maui'a told reporters on Wednesday that Kekua was "real" and he had met her.
That statement made many, like Chicago Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton, start poking holes in Te'o's statement.
The problem with that: What about the anecdote that Manti Te'o and Lennay Kekua met, exchanged numbers on the field at Stanford in 2009?— Brian Hamilton (@ChiTribHamilton) January 16, 2013
Pete Thamel, one of the many well-known sports reporters who was duped by the Kekua story, added this:
The big question here is whether Te'o was involved or not. Notre Dame is staking a loud claim that he got duped and had no involvement.— Pete Thamel(@SIPeteThamel) January 16, 2013
A former Stanford player claimed that Te'o had asked spoken to them about "his mystery girl".
Got to believe Te'o was the victim here.He would always ask us if we knew his mystery girl after we'd play them....— Matthew Masifilo (@MMasifilo) January 17, 2013
Nev Schulman, the host of the MTV show "Catfish," who perhaps is the most famous face of a fake Internet girlfriend, assured his followers he was looking into it.
So what do you think? What did Te'o know and when? And who is Lennay Kekua? Also, crisis communication experts—any ideas on how Te'o can get out of this one before the NFL draft?
UPDATE: It appears the Twitter feed was just another hoax as well. On Thursday afternoon it issued this "statement":
[Photo by Flickr user Neon Tommy]
My statement: This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but I have been told by Alabama's offense that Manti Te'o is not real.— L K (@LennayKay) January 17, 2013