Everybody loves a story where an athlete overcomes some hardship or tragedy and goes on to greatness. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o exhibited all the characteristics that we love to see in our heroes have: strength, compassion, athletic prowess, love of family and God…… throw in the tragic love story of a girlfriend dying of leukemia just days after his grandmother… and everybody loved Manti…and wanted him to win both the Heisman Trophy and the National Championship.

News stories and articles were filled with stories of the great love between Lennay Kekua and Manti Te’o. Te’o recounted details of their relationship on ESPN and ABC revealing that her love and support motivated him to play better and be a better person. He even shared that her last words to him were “I love you” and that he sent white roses to her funeral at her request. This story heated up exposure on Te’o in the Heisman Trophy race and was a tear-jerking back-story setting the stage for the BCS National Championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama.

It was all a lie. Lennay Kekua didn’t die, because she never existed.

In a story first reported by deadspin.com in an elaborate hoax, Kekua was an online persona created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te’o’s and a pastor at a church in Palmdale, Calif. Pictures of Kekua featured on a facebook book page are instead those of an unnamed woman with no ties to Te’o

“We know it’s a hoax… The only question out there is exactly what Manti knew about it,” Timothy Burke, one of the authors of the piece on Deadspin, said during an appearance Wednesday on CBS Radio

WOW! Is all I can say Jersey Girl Sports Fam, just when you thought you had heard it all……

Te’o has responded to ESPN.com with the following statement:

“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,” Te’o said. “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.

“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.
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.

“I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.

“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I’m looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.”

 I’d like to believe him Jersey Girl Sports Fam…I really would but seriously… is anyone really that naïve? You have to wonder if perhaps this was a bad publicity stunt gone wrong. If true it’s a shame because without all of the back-story drama, Te’o is a great athlete who had a great season until the Alabama game (but that’s another story) and the lie was unnecessary. I’ll even be a little cynical and say he could have garnered a lot of sympathy with just his grandmother’s death (which is true).

Notre Dame is saying that they were advised of the hoax by Te’o and his parents and are investigating the situation. We all know that there is a lot more to the story, and I’m not even sure if I want to know what it is.

If Te’o was in fact the victim of a cruel hoax then I feel bad for him and suggest that the NFL make sure he gets a lot of off the field coaching on how to handle life skills before somebody sells him a bridge, or hits him up with a paternity suit.

In the book Love Story written by Erich Segal, Oliver Barrett and Jennifer Cavilleri are a young couple in love who overcome great differences only to be torn apart by her tragic death from leukemia. One of the great lines from the story is when Jennifer tells Ollie “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”

I hope we won’t be hearing “I’m sorry” from Manti. I’ll stay tuned to Oprah’s OWN Network….just in case.

What’s your take on the story Jersey Girl Sports Fam? Bizarre? Tragic? Outrageous?

Your Jersey Girlfriend,

Tatia Harris