Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, who has kept a low profile following the news that his girlfriend never existed, spoke Friday evening, saying that he was the victim of the hoax, not one of its perpetrators.
"I wasn't faking it," he said in an interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap. "I wasn't part of this."
Schaap conducted a 2 1/2-hour interview with Te'o at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Te'o is preparing for next month's NFL combine. And, Schaap said, the player was adamant he did not participate in the ruse.
"No. Never," Schaap said Te'o told him. "Never. Not ever."
Earlier this week Deadspin.com posted a story detailing an online relationship Te'o had with a woman he knew as Lennay Kekua. But the woman never existed and the relationship proved to be a hoax, leading to speculation that Te'o might have participated in the ruse.
Te'o, Schaap said, dismissed that.
"I wasn't faking it," Schaap quoted Te'o as saying. "I wasn't part of this."
After more than a year of corresponding on social media and by telephone with Kekua, Te'o said he was told in September the woman had died of leukemia. Three months later, the player got a call from a phone number he recognized as Kekua's with the voice on the other end telling him Kekua wasn't dead.
"I knew that — I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet," Schaap said Te'o told him.
ESPN and Deadspin have both reported that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high school football and volleyball star from the Antelope Valley, was behind the ruse. Te'o told Schaap he met Tuiasosopo for the first time after Notre Dame's victory over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 24.
The Times sought a response from Tuiasosopo on Friday but no one at the family's home would speak to reporters.
To compound matters, Schaap said Te'o admitted that he lied to his father about having met Kekua and that led to misleading the public.
“That goes back to what I did with my dad," Te'o told Schaap. "I knew that. I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet,” he said. “So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away.”