NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — OK, now it’s really getting weird.
On the same night the story of Manti Te’o’s girlfriend and her death last year from Leukemia was revealed as a hoax, an NFL player insisted “No, she is real.”
Um — what?
Reagan Mauia, who played in two games for the Arizona Cardinals last season, said he met Lennay Kekua in person during an outreach trip with Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and others in June 2011.
“This was before her and Manti,” Mauia said Wednesday, according to ESPN. “I don’t think Manti was even in the picture, but she and I became good friends. We would talk off and on, just checking up on each other kind of thing. I am close to her family. When she was going through the loss of her father, I was — I offered a comforting shoulder and just someone to bounce her emotions off. That was just from meeting her in Samoa.”
Deadspin.com rocked the sports world when it published a report at 4:10 p.m., saying there was no evidence Kekua ever existed.
Te’o later said in a statement that he was the “victim” of “someone’s sick joke and constant lies.” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick called a news conference Wednesday night, aligning himself and the university behind Te’o.
Swarbrick said investigators hired by Notre Dame “were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking.”
In the middle of the whole saga was Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, whose friends and relatives told Deadspin they believe he was behind the Kekua character. Deadspin said Te’o may have been in on it, pointing to some sort of acquaintance between Tuiasosopo and the Fighting Irish linebacker.
Mauia said he was introduced to Kekua by Tuiasosopo, and thought Kekua’s mother was operating her Twitter account — a key cog in Deadspin’s report.
“She was tall,” Mauia said. “Volleyball-type of physique. She was athletic, tall, beautiful. Long hair. Polynesian. She looked like a model.”
Te’o’s story hit the national stage after an emotional upset over 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.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up was projected by many to be a first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft.
Um… OK. Your thoughts on Mauia? Sound off in the comments!