NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) –A hoax of epic proportions rocked the world of one of college footballs brightest athletes.
Sports site Deadspin.com published a report on Wednesday alleging a “hoax” involving Notre Dame star Manti Te’o. In the lengthy investigative piece, Deadspin said Lennay Kekua, who was thought to be Te’o's deceased girlfriend, never existed.
On Twitter, the sports world reacted with shock. Notre Dame released a statement, saying Te’o appeared to be the “victim” of “a sad and very cruel deception.” Te’o may have been “in on it,” Deadspin reported.
However, later Wednesday, Te’o issued a statement saying “I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies.”
“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her,” the statement read.
Notre Dame officials said coaches found out December 26 from Te’o himself. Te’o told them he received a phone call from a number he recognized as his deceased girlfriend, CBS 2′s Emily Smith reported.
The woman on the other end of the line said all along she used a fake name and lied about the entire tragedy.
Brian Hamilton, Notre Dame beat reporter for the the Chicago Tribune, said the report was “nothing short of stunning” on WFAN radio.
“Perhaps as journalists we ought to be a little bit more suspicious and even a little bit more cynical about checking every single fact that’s presented to us,” Hamilton told WFAN’s Mike Francesa. “I’ll say this: I don’t ever recall hearing about this person until she was dead.”
Te’o's story hit the national stage after an emotional win against Michigan State in Sept., following the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend. Kekua’s passing after a battle with leukemia — now apparently fiction — was widely reported.
“It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother’s death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life,” Te’o's statement said.
“The Heisman Trophy candidacy, the ascendancy of Manti Te’o rested a lot on this part of the story,” said Hamilton. “The personal angle.”
In its statement, Notre Dame said Te’o informed the university that he was duped.
“On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia,” Notre Dame said.
According to the university’s timeline, the team knew of the situation before its loss to Alabama in the BCS title game.
The statement went on: “The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.”
Te’o was projected by many to be a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
OK. This is obviously stunning. What’s your reaction? Sound off in the comments…