Te'o breaks silence, but only leads to more questions

Te'o breaks silence, but only leads to more questions
January 19, 2013, 5:54 am
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Updated: Saturday, Jan. 19, 1:36 a.m.

Late Friday night, Manti Te'o spoke to the media for the first time since it was learned his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was the product of an elaborate hoax. What was gleaned from Jeremy Schapp's interview with Te'o, though, only fostered more questions and speculation about the linebacker's relationship with Kekua.

Te'o denied any involvement in the hoax, and said Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- originally reported by Deadspin.com to be the mastermind behind Kekua -- sent him a message on Twitter confessing to and apologizing for the Kekua hoax. Schapp said Te'o showed him twitter messages from Tuiasosopo after the interview was conducted.

As first pointed out by Deadspin.com, though, there doesn't appear to be anyone Te'o follows who could be Tuiasosopo, which would be necessary for someone to send Te'o a direct message on Twitter. CSNChicago.com looked through the users Te'o followed and came to the same conclusion, although it's not a definitive one.

Te'o said he didn't fully believe Kekua wasn't real until Tuiasosopo admitted the hoax to him, and that was only two days ago.

On Dec. 6, Te'o received a call from the person he thought was Kekua, who told him she was alive and had to fake her death to avoid drug dealers. According to Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, Te'o informed the university of his suspicions he had been hoaxed on Dec. 26, and the private investigative firm hired by the school presented its findings to the Te'o family on Jan. 5.

After Dec. 6, Te'o made mention multiple times about his girlfriend's death. He told Schapp, though, that after receiving the call he went on a "rampage," and finished it by saying: "My Lennay died on Sept. 12."

ESPN initially reported Te'o said a woman who claimed to be Kekua showed up at Notre Dame's hotel in South Florida during the week leading up to the BCS Championship, although that has since been dropped from its story.

Another central question Te'o answered regarded his supposed in-person meetings with Kekua, which he admitted to lying about. He told his father, Brian, he had met Kekua face-to-face, and "catered" his stories so it would be thought he met Kekua before she died.

"I knew that -- I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet," Te'o told ESPN. "And that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn't meet her as well."

While Te'o has said Kekua was the "love of his life," he didn't think to try to see her in the hospital after he was told she was in a car crash April 28 -- also, when he said he and Kekua became inseparable. His explanation: "It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school."

Earlier in the week, ESPN reported via an anonymous teammate that some members of the Notre Dame football team didn't think Kekua was really Te'o's girlfriend, and that he perpetuated the idea he was serious with Kekua out of a love for attention.

Te'o did say he attempted to video chat with Kekua, but said he never saw the person because of a "black box" on the opposite end of the chat.

Te'o also told ESPN he and Kekua got into an argument the day his grandmother passed away -- "I didn't want to be bothered," Te'o said -- and then later that day, he received a phone call saying Kekua had died of leukemia.

From what Te'o said, it doesn't sound as if he or the family will pursue legal action. When asked about Tuiasosopo, Te'o told ESPN:

"I hope he learns. I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."

The linebacker's interview answered a few questions, but created plenty more. One central question that may never be publicly answered: What, exactly, was the nature of Te'o's relationship with Kekua? Was it truly as deep as Te'o has made it out to be, or was it more along the lines of what some of Te'o's teammates reportedly suspected? If he really felt a deep, emotional love for Kekua, why would school and football get in the way of him attempting to see her when she was in the hospital?

The answers to those questions have nothing to do with a hoax, though -- they would've been questions if Kekua had actually existed. The hoax angle hasn't been completely answered yet, but is far closer than most questions. Most of the evidence, outside of a friend of Tuiasosopo's telling Deadspin there was an "80 percent" chance Te'o was involved, seems to point to Te'o being duped.

A few other questions: If Te'o wasn't convinced Kekua didn't exist until a few days ago, what did the findings of the investigation commissioned by Notre Dame find? Were those findings shared with just Te'o's parents, or did he have access to them as well?

The question of why Te'o still referred to Kekua as being dead after Dec. 6 wasn't completely answered -- perhaps he believed his version of Kekua died on Sept. 12, but then why did he only come to the realization she didn't exist on Wednesday?

These are all questions -- and there are more, too -- that can be answered with a follow-up interview -- if that is to occur, either soon, at the NFL combine in February or when Te'o moves on to the NFL. The answers to them certainly won't satisfy everyone, no matter how apt an explanation as plenty have already made up their minds on one side of the fence or the other regarding Te'o.

But a gray area remains in this saga, and it's one that may never go away.