CHICAGO >> During Manti Te’o’s first televised interview after the dead girlfriend hoax that is engulfing him, he listened to a voicemail from the person purported to be Lennay Kekua — a voice that was revealed Thursday to be that of the alleged hoaxer himself, a 22-year-old man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
“Doesn’t it sound like a girl?” Te’o asked Katie Couric. “It sounds like a girl.”
Consider it yet another of the mind-bending twists in the saga that has broadsided the former Notre Dame linebacker, whose sit-down with Couric was his first on-camera appearance since the story broke on Jan. 16.
On Dec. 6, the person portraying Kekua called Te’o, announcing that she had not, in fact, died on Sept. 12. Te’o, confused, still referred to a dead girlfriend in media appearances 48 hours later.
“Part of me was saying, if you say that she is alive, what would everybody think?” Te’o said. “What are you going to tell everybody who follows you, who you’ve inspired? What are you going to say?
“At that time, Dec. 8, as a 21-year-old, I wasn’t ready for that. The only one who knew was me. I did not know who to turn to, I did not know who to tell, I didn’t know who to trust. I was scared. That’s the truth. I was scared and I did not know what to do.”
Earlier in the interview, Te’o was asked about transcripts of interviews where he speaks about meeting Kekua — even though such a meeting obviously never occurred.
“For people feeling they’re misled, that I’m sorry for,” Te’o said. “I wasn’t as forthcoming about it, but I didn’t lie. I never was asked, ‘Did you see her in person?’ Through embarrassment and fear of what people may think, that I was committed to this person I didn’t meet, that scared me. To avoid any further conversation, I wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been.”
As for the theory that the entire ordeal was an elaborate plan to mask Te’o’s sexuality, Couric delved directly into the subject, asking Te’o if he was gay.
“No,” Te’o said. “Far from it. Faaaar from that.”
Couric then asked Te’o why a successful, popular football player wouldn’t simply choose to date a girl on campus at Notre Dame.
“This Lennay person, there are so many similarities — she was Polynesian, she was Samoan, I’m Samoan,” Te’o said. “She loved her faith. I’m Mormon, she knew a lot about that. I found a lot of peace and a lot of comfort being able to talk to somebody and she knew my standards and my culture. She knew what was expected of me and I knew what was expected of her.”