Manti Te’o told ESPN tonight that he was never a willing participant in the hoax involving an online relationship with a person whom he considered his girlfriend.
“No. Never,” Te’o said in an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap.
“I wasn’t faking it,” he said. “I wasn’t part of this.”
Te’o said he did not make anything up to help his Heisman trophy candidacy.
“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” he told ESPN. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”
Te’o told Schaap that he first met the woman he thought was Lennay Kekua on Facebook.
He said the relationship began to get serious when he thought she had been in a car accident.
Shortly afterwards, they began talking on the phone daily from about April 28 until Sept. 12, when he thought she had died.
Te’o told Schaap he didn’t really believe Kekua didn’t exist until Ronaiah Tuiasasopo apologized and admitted he was behind the hoax two days ago.
Te’o said he received a direct message from Tuiasosopo on Twitter where Tuiasosopo said he was the perpetrator, along with one other man and a woman.
“Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing,” Te’o told ESPN. Asked who they are, he said: “I don’t know. According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah’s one.”
Te’o admitted misleading people, including his father, about the relationship because he knew how it would sound if it was known that he had never actually met Kekua in person.
“I knew that — I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” he said. “And that alone people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”
ESPN reported that Te’o said a group of people, including a woman claiming to be Kekua, showed up at the team hotel for the Discover BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Te’o said he knew they were at the hotel because the group took photos in the lobby of the hotel. Te’o told Schaap it affected his play in the game, where Notre Dame lost to Alabama 42-14.
Schaap asked Te’o was what he thought should happen to Tuiasosopo.
“I hope he learns,” Te’o said in an ESPN story posted online. “I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough.”
He added: “I’ll be OK. As long as my family’s OK, I’ll be fine.”
The comments were Te’o’s first public remarks since deadspin.com reported that his girlfriend not only didn’t die but, in fact, never existed.
Earlier, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said during the taping of his weekly radio show that Te’o has to explain exactly how he was duped into an online relationship with a fictitious woman whose “death” was then faked by perpetrators of the scheme.
Skeptics have questioned the versions of events laid out by Te’o and Notre Dame, wondering why Te’o never said his relationship was with someone online and why he waited almost three weeks to tell the school about being duped.
According to Notre Dame, Te’o received a call on Dec. 6 from the girl he had only been in contact with by telephone and online, and who he thought had died in September. After telling his family what happened while he was home in Hawaii for Christmas, he informed Notre Dame coaches on Dec. 26.
Notre Dame said it hired investigators to look into Te’o’s claims and their findings showed he was the victim of an elaborate hoax.
Te’o released a statement on Wednesday, soon after deadspin.com broke news of the scam with a lengthy story, saying he had been humiliated and hurt by the “sick joke.” But he has laid low since.
Te’o led a lightly regarded Fighting Irish team to a 12-0 regular season and the BCS title game.
Deadspin reported that friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old who lives in California, believe he created Kekua. The website also reported Te’o and Tuiasosopo knew each other — which has led to questions about Te’o’s involvement in the hoax.