Folks around the Internet are going crazy for a Deadspin story that broke Wednesday afternoonregarding Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o. The 3000+ word investigation claims Te'o's inspiring relationship with a young woman who eventually succumbed to leukemia was not only a hoax, but the girl in question, Lennay Kekua, never existed at all.
While the details of the story hang in the air -- Who was involved? Was Te'o in on the hoax? Is it a hoax at all? -- Notre Dame officials were quick to offer up a statement to HLN regarding the allegations. In full:
"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."
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Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held back tears during a press conference Wednesday as he defended Te'o, saying he was the victim.
"Every single thing about this was real to Manti," Swarbrick said. "There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that's the sad nature of this cruel game."
Teo also released a statement through his agent on Wednesday, saying he was embarrassed that he was the victim of a "sick joke."
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over several months I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. 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 and less foolish. 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."
Te'o's apparent relationship with Kekua was a strong and inspirational storyline during Notre Dame's 2012 football season, and was a major personal touchstone when Te'o was nominated for the Heisman Award. The relationship, Kekua's death, Te'o's grief and the support of his family and friends were widely reported by the media.