Embattled Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o gave his first televised interview to Katie Couric on Thursday (January 24), one week after it was revealed that his much-publicized relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua was an elaborate hoax. And, with cameras rolling, he attempted to explain just how he fell victim to what many are calling the biggest “Catfish” of all time.
“Well, this Lennay person, there were so many similarities; she was Samoan, I’m Samoan, she loved her faith, and she knew a lot about it, I’m Mormon, she knew a lot about that,” he told Couric. “I found a lot of peace and a lot of comfort in being able to talk to somebody and they knew my standards, they knew my culture, they knew what’s expected of me and they knew what’s expected of her.”
Te’o said that, over the course of their online relationship, he had “doubts” that Kekua was real, but he spoke to several people who claimed to have met her, and explained that he was too emotionally involved to see the red flags that were rapidly rising. He also said he and Kekua spoke several times over the telephone — and Couric played several snippets of messages Kekua supposedly left for him. Though, according to the lawyer for Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (the man many believe was behind the hoax), the voice on the other end of the phone was actually his client.
“It was very real, Katie. It was very, very real,” Te’o said. “I was so caught up in the whole thing.”
Te’o also attempted to explain why, after receiving a phone call from someone claiming to be Kekua on December 6 (less than three months after she had supposedly died due to complications with leukemia) he continued to tell the story of her battle with the disease to members of the national media two days later.
“Part of me was saying ‘If you say that she’s alive, what would everybody think? And what are you going to tell everybody who follows you and you inspired? What are you going to say?’” he said. “And at that time, on December 8, two days after I found out she was alive, as a 21 year old, I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t even tell my parents yet, I didn’t tell anybody. And I felt that I did not know who to turn to, I did not know who to tell, I did not know who to trust; it was a big thing for me, and I was scared. That’s the truth. I was just scared and I didn’t know what to do.”
Te’o said his only regret was lying to his father about meeting Kekua, and said that he kept the lie going because he didn’t want to let down those closest to him … and those who see him as a role model.
“I think for me the only thing is that I had an impact on people, that people turned to me for inspiration, and I think that was the only thing I focused on,” he said. “My story was a guy who in times of hardship and in times of trial, really held strong to his faith, held strong to his family, and I felt that was my story. What I went through was real; the feelings, the pain, the sorrow that was all real and that’s something that I can’t fake.”
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