Lennay Kekua was the name of football player Manti Te’o’s supposed “girlfriend.”
Was she real? No. But the photos were of a real woman. What was her real name? Kekua was a catfish. The photos of Lennay Kekua were really a marketing executive named Diane O’Meara who had nothing to do with it, Daily Mail reported.
O’Meara spoke out about the incident in a 2013 CNN interview.
In 2022, Netflix streamed the show, “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.” The caption reads, “From Notre Dame to the NFL, Manti Te’o’s future in football showed promise until a secret online relationship sent his life and career spiraling.”
Here’s what you need to know about the real story:
Deadspin Unraveled the Hoax
In 2013, Deadspin revealed that the heartbreaking story of Kekua’s death was a “hoax.” The exhaustively detailed investigation report was written by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey.
The story of Kekua and Te’o had even made the pages of Sports Illustrated. “In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te’o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua,” Deadspin reported.
The story went that Kekua, 22, was injured in a car accident in California and then died of leukemia. According to Deadspin, the Sports Illustrated author even described how her “relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice.”
According to Deadspin, the football player spoke on television about letters Kekua sent him and the heartfelt story was featured in other respected publications.
ESPN wrote before the hoax unraveled:
Te’o’s family was originally set to meet Kekua for the first time this Saturday, and the emptiness probably will be felt in the same way it has been every day since her passing, when the couple’s ritual of falling asleep on the phone together came to a tragic end.
Kekua made Te’o promise he would not leave Notre Dame should anything happen to her, requesting only a few white roses. So he responded three days after her death by recording 12 tackles in a prime-time win at then-No. 10 Michigan State.
Only it wasn’t true.
Deadspin Wrote, ‘There Was No Lennay Kekua’
Deadspin could find no record of Kekua or her death and discovered photos of her were of a woman who had never met Te’o.
According to the Deadspin investigation, the relationship began on Twitter between @MTeo_5 and @lovalovaloveYOU, on Oct. 10, 2011.
However, the photos on that account were of the other woman unearthed by Deadspin, who was not Kekua. She told Deadspin she had sent the picture to a high school acquaintance named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who was actually a family friend of the football player. Tuiasosopo now is a trangender woman called Naya Tuiasosopo.
Deadspin wrote, “we spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008.”
Concluded Deadspin, “There was no Lennay Kekua.”
According to Deadspin, Notre Dame released this statement:
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.
This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, 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. 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.
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