SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A story about Manti Te’o’s girlfriend dying of leukemia, which the Notre Dame All-American credited with inspiring him as he led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker, the school said today.
The university issued a news release today after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The university said that Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te’o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te’o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name “apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia,” the school said.
The university said “the proper authorities” are investigating a “very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.” Notre Dame would not say who, specifically, was investigating the case.
The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te’o’s grandmother and a friend had died. Te’o didn’t miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te’o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish’s undefeated regular season.
Te’o went on the become a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing second in the voting, and leading Notre Dame to its first appearance in the BCS championship.
Te’o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.
Four days ago Te’o posted on his Twitter account: “Can’t wait to start training with the guys! Workin to be the best! The grind continues! #Future”
Te’o’s mother did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
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