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Manti Te’o’s Girlfriend Hoax was a faked relationship between Notre Dame football player Manti Malietau Louis Te’o and a nonexistent woman named Lennay Kekua.
In October 2012, Te’o appeared in a YouTube video to speak about the recent losses of his grandmother and his girlfriend, both of whom had passed away from illnesses only six hours apart on September 12th, 2012.
On January 16th, 2013, Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of Deadspin published an investigation into Lennay Kekua’s identity after finding there was no record of her existence. They also found that the photographs used to identify Kekua in the media belonged to a 22-year-old Californian woman who did not know Te’o. As she was looking at the social media accounts that supposedly belonged to Kekua, she noticed that the image used on Kekua’s Twitter background (shown below) had not been posted anywhere online previously. Taken in December 2012, this specific photo was sent directly to high school acquaintance Ronaiah Tuiasosopo after he had asked her to take a photo holding up a sign that said ’MSMK" to “put in a slideshow” to help boost the morale of his cousin who had been in a serious car accident. After finding the photo, she called Tuiasosopo who acted strangely, but told her not to worry about it. The photo was then removed from the profile. The article was subsequently posted to Reddit twice, earning 2374 points in the NFL subreddit and 1329 points in the News subreddit.
Almost immediately after the Deadspin article was published, many other blogs and news sites began to pick up on the story. Within 24 hours, the story had been featured on USA Today, CNN, the Huffington Post and TMZ among others. Many of these outlets including Hollywood.com, MTV and TIME likened the situation to the ones that take place in the 2010 documentary movie Catfish, in which photographer Nev Schulman goes to meet his online girlfriend Megan, only to find out she does not exist and was created by an older woman. On January 17th, Schulman was interviewed byABC News about the Te’o situation, during which he noted that he had been contacted by people involved in the hoax prior to Deadspin’s expose, alluding that other people may have “dated” Kekua as well. The same day, blogger Justin Megahan posted a handful of tweets from @jayRahz claiming that he knew the profile was a fake as early as December 2012. The tweets were later reposted to Mashable.
Approximately one hour after the Deadspin story was published, Notre Dame responded via Facebook claiming that Te’o had been the victim of a cruel hoax and the school would be assisting Te’o and his family in an investigation into the matter. The post was shared more than 1700 times and garnered more than 1780 comments. An hour after this statement was released, Te’o shared his thoughts on the matter stating that he was incredibly embarrassed by the situation and acknowledged that he had only maintained his relationship with Kekua online, despite his previous argument that they had met at a game.
On the evening of January 16th, the single topic Tumblr #Teoing launched, collecting photos of men standing with their arm outstretched as if they were putting it around someone, as well as empty chairs where their “girlfriends” were, similar to Eastwooding. Later, the blog went on to include other styles of image macros and parodies about the event.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was a football player in high school who had not continued on afterwards, unlike many of his NFL-playing family members. After he graduated in 2008, he got involved with his father’s church, going on to lead the band as well as launching his own YouTube music channel. Te’o and Tuiasosopo were friends, chatting over Twitter, although Tuiasosopo deleted his account as of January 17th. According to his friends, Tuiasosopo fabricated the identity of Lennay in 2008 and Te’o was not the first person to have an online relationship with her. Tuiasosopo has been quiet on the matter, however, his father Titus posted a note on his Facebook page thanking friends and family for their support during a time where their name has been “splattered all over the media.” On January 30th, Tuiasosopo was interviewed on ABC News by psychologist Dr. Phil (shown below). In the segment, Tuiasosopo admitted to having romantic feelings for Te’o and demonstrated his faked high-pitched female voice.
Maxim Hot 100 Inclusion
On May 8th, 2013, the men’s interest magazine Maxim listed Leenay Kekua as #69 on their annual “Hot 100” list. That same day, Maxim’s inclusion of Te’o’s fake girlfriend was reported by the entertainment news blog Hollywood and the sports blog Bolt Beat.
After Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend hoax of 2012, we think it might be nice to have an invisible girl of our own to love. Why not? She’s got a ton of great qualities, including looking awesome in a bikini.
Chicago Tribune – Father of alleged ‘mastermind’ behind Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax reacts (Autoplay)