UPDATE: Notre Dame football: Advancing the Te'o saga

Manti Te'oKatie CouricDiane O'MearaFootballSportsHeisman TrophyTwitter, Inc.

SOUTH BEND -- Maybe it's the beginning of the end of the national referendum, where seemingly every aspect of former Notre Dame All-America football player Manti Te'o's life -- his integrity, his legacy, even his sexual orientation -- is put to a vote daily, like it's American Idol.

Maybe, after sitting down with Katie Couric for her syndicated talk show, Te'o will be able to shift his mind-set, and most everyone else's, about where it all goes from here, a little more than a week after the flip side of Manti Mania spun into persistent national headlines.

"As far as my (NFL) draft status, I hope and pray that good happens, obviously," Te'o said on Katie, which aired Thursday. "But as long as my family's OK, I can live with whatever happens."

Te'o's family, father Brian and mom Ottilia, appeared in the final couple of segments of the hour-long show.

Couric tried to exact finer points on what had already been published, flesh out some new ones, present phone records and voice mails, and get the family perspective on a hoax in which Deadspin.com strongly suggested Manti was a co-conspirator and he continued to insist he was not.

"It hurts," Ottilia said of the way the oldest of her six children has been portrayed in the media in recent days. "That's my child out there. That's my child.

"In my eyes, he always puts others before himself. He did exactly what I would expect a responsible, respectful young man to do -- to extend himself to someone who said that they lost their father and now they have cancer. I am proud of his character. It just hurts to see his picture and his name being displayed as someone who's dishonest."

The dangling detail that neither Couric, nor anyone else for that matter, can zero in on yet is the motive of the alleged mastermind of the con, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, has for creating a largely online persona named Lennay Kekua. Te'o came to call Kekua his girlfriend but she never actually died from leukemia on Sept. 12, as Te'o said he believed and so many, including the South Bend Tribune, reported.

The New York Daily News spoke to an attorney, Milton Grimes, representing Tuiasosopo, who told the paper of his client: "This wasn't a prank to make fun. It was establishing a communication with someone. ... It was a person with a troubled existence trying to reach out and communicate and have a relationship."

When pressed to detail the rather cryptic response, Grimes' reply was, "I wouldn't describe his issues at this time."

Grimes also told the Daily News the voice of Lennay Kekua was actually that of Tuiasosopo.

Couric played three voicemails on Thursday's show, allegedly from the person portraying Kekua.

"Do you think Ronaiah could have been playing the role of Lennay?" Couric queried. "Do you think that might have been a man on the other end of the phone?"

"Well, it didn't sound like a man," Te'o said. "It sounded like a woman. But if he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's an incredible talent to do that voice, especially every single day."

One of the more aggressive lines of questioning was why Te'o, after hearing again from the person portraying Kekua on Dec. 6, perpetuated the story in the days that followed and didn't tell his parents until almost three weeks later. The Heisman Trophy presentation was Dec. 8, and the subject of Kekua's death came up that night.

"Part of me was saying, 'If you say she was alive, what would everybody think?' " he told Couric. "Now what are you going to tell everybody who follows you, who you've inspired? What are you going to say?

"And at that time, on Dec. 8, two days after I just found out that she's alive, as a 21-year-old, I wasn't ready for that. I didn't even tell my parents. I didn't tell anybody. The only one who knew was me. That's all. And I felt, 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."

According to Te'o's Mormon bishop and spiritual adviser, Jim Carrier, he was the first person Te'o told about the Dec. 6 call. That was on Dec. 19. Carrier said he then insisted Te'o tell his parents and texted him to that end every day once the Laie, Hawaii, product went home for a scheduled break on Dec. 21 until he told his parents on Christmas.

"When I reflect on the night I found out, I couldn't figure out what was going on," Brian Te'o told Couric. "I mean, so many ideas are going through your head of what this possibly could be. I mean, is it real? Is it fake? Is it someone's sick joke? Is there blackmail at the end of this?

"You know, Manti's coming to the end of his career. Is someone going to solicit him later on? And all these thoughts are going through my mind, and I kind of had to sit there for a good day or two, just kind of figuring it out and asking him, 'Are you sure, are you really sure?' "

"The hardest part of this experience," Manti said, "is to see my family go through it because of something that I did. That's the hardest part for me. But I'm glad that my parents are here and I'm with them and that they're OK.

"Cause, like I said, the greatest joy in any child's life is to make your parents proud. The greatest pain is to know that they're experiencing pain, because of you.''

The pain may have eventually legal ramifications, per SI.com legal analyst and writer Michael McCann, who tweeted on his Twitter account Thursday afternoon that, in his opinion, "Tuiasosopo may have 1) harassed & intentionally inflicted distress on Te'o; 2) infringed copyright of O'Meara."

Diane O'Meara is reported to be a 23-year-old marketing executive in Los Angeles, whose likeness was used by Tuiasosopo as part of Kekua's persona, unbeknownst to O'Meara.

The Washington Redskins can relate on a smaller scale. In a piece by NFL.com's Jeff Darlington, he reveals a woman known by the pseudonym Sidney Ackerman was believed to be trying to con some of that team's players.

"If you think about it, a lot of them are single guys, and they see somebody who looks good in a picture or something," Phillip Daniels, Washington's director of player development, told Darlington. "In many cases, it involves someone who is a fan of the team, so they'll start talking about the team. You have to recognize that something just isn't right.

"But you're talking about a lot of guys who are single. I don't fault the guys. I fault the people who are doing this crazy stuff, causing these problems."

Daniels, incidentally, is the father of Notre Dame sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels.

According to Darlington, "Ackerman had collected more than 17,000 followers on Twitter, which created a sense of legitimacy in the minds of players, according to sources."

"I think it was all about attention," Daniels said. "I don't think it was any of the other stuff. It was just about being able to talk to them, pretending to be someone they aren't. It was never a situation where guys were giving money or anything like that."

As for Te'o, he shared with Couric a direct message purported to be from Tuiasosopo and delivered to him on Jan. 16, the day the Deadspin story went viral.

"I wanted to tell you everything today," the message said. "I will not say anything to anyone else before I tell you everything. I would and will never say anything bad about you or your family.

"I completely accept the consequences to the pain I've caused, and it's important that you know the entire truth before anyone else."

Among some of the other bullet points on Thursday:

-- Did he bask in being a sympathetic figure?

"For me the only thing I basked in is that I had an impact on people, that people would turn to me for inspiration," Te'o said. "I think that was the only thing I focused on. My story, I felt, was a guy in times of hardship and times of trial, really held strong to his faith, held strong to his family."

-- Did he exaggerate the hardship at any point?

"What I went through was real," he said. "The feelings, the pain, the sorrow. That was all real. That's something that I can't fake."

-- Did he feel his story line helped propel him to a second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting?

"I don't know," he said. "I really don't know."

-- What was attractive about Kekua when there were so many "real" girls on the ND campus?

"This Lennay person, there were so many similarities," he said. "She was Polynesian supposedly. She's Samoan. I'm Samoan. She loved her faith. I'm Mormon, and she knew a lot about that.

"I found a lot of peace being able to talk to somebody and they knew my standards, they knew my culture. They knew what was expected of me and I knew what was expected of her."

-- Is he gay?

"No," he said. "Far from it. Faaaaar from that."

The man who came to Notre Dame purportedly on a leap of faith, who deferred his Mormon mission on another decision that lacked pragmatics and pushed back the NFL dream to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, by his admission, on a decision he arrived at based on faith, now finds himself in the fight of his life when he purportedly applied those same principles to matters of the heart.

"If they're saying Manti lied about something, then they might as well say the rest of us lied about what we're talking about today," Brian Te'o said, "because the story about this, as bizarre as it may seem, was reality for us.

"In retrospect, vision is 20-20. We can say the red flags all came up. But when you're in the moment, it's every day. I'm proud of this guy. I really am. And nothing that has happened in the last couple of weeks is going to take that away.

"He's not a liar. He's a kid. He's a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man and I love him. I really do."

Said Manti, "From August to November, you have a lot of people cheering for you. A lot of people saying, 'You're so great, you're so great.' And when something like this happens, you see who's actually in your corner. You see who actually loves you. You see who actually has always been there, and it starts with these two sitting next to me (his parents)."

Staff writer Eric Hansen:
ehansen@sbtinfo.com
574-235-6112

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