Hoax: Was Heisman Runner-up's Girlfriend Actually a Man?

The revelations about college football star Manti Te'o's fabricated girlfriend indicate a male friend was behind the hoax, and some observers wonder if the girlfriend was a cover story for Te'o being gay.

BY Trudy Ring

January 17 2013 5:14 PM ET

Manti Te’o

The story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s fabricated girlfriend, which has shocked and fascinated football fans since the news broke Wednesday, also has some observers wondering: Is Te’o gay?

Deadspin yesterday published an exposé of the elaborate fakery that created Lennay Kekua, a young woman with whom Te’o allegedly had a long-distance romantic relationship via telephone and social media. Kekua was said to have been in a serious auto accident last year and to then have been diagnosed with leukemia, which claimed her life on the eve of Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State last fall, around the same time that Te’o’s grandmother died. Many media outlets carried emotional stories of Te’o participating in the game despite his sorrow and helping Notre Dame to an upset victory.

It turns out, though, that Kekua never existed, according to Deadspin. The person behind her Twitter messages, the site reports, was most likely a male friend of Te’o’s by the name of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Deadspin also interviewed a woman acquaintance of Tuiasosopo’s whose pictures were used, without her knowledge, to represent Kekua on Twitter.

Notre Dame officials and Te’o himself have released statements portraying him as the victim of a hoax, although some observers speculate that Te’o may have known what was going on. Te’o refers to having had “an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” but earlier accounts had described him encountering her in person after a 2009 game at Stanford University, where she was reportedly a student, and her visiting him in his home state of Hawaii during school breaks. Deadspin notes several inconsistencies in the narrative of their relationship, and the time line is indeed confusing.

The whole story, but especially the possibility of Tuiasosopo’s participation, prompted many people to ask if Te’o is gay, writes Cyd Ziegler Jr. in Outsports. “I personally don’t know,” Ziegler writes. “But it seems to be the question everyone is asking. If he is, I hope he finds strength and acceptance; the vast majority of his friends, teammates and fans will support him whole-heartedly. If he’s not, I hope he can answer some questions, because people want to know why on earth he would concoct this totally fabricated story — including eight-hour phone calls — if they never happened.”

Ziegler adds that the curiosity about Te’o is understandable. “There has never been a publicly out NFL player. There has never been a publicly out Div. 1 football player. But we know they’re out there. And if they were out there and wanted to hide their sexual orientation — or a relationship with another man — a fictitious girlfriend is a good way to do it. The fantastic story about car accidents and death by leukemia would just be showing off that stereotypical gay flair for the dramatic.”

He concludes, “Either way, for Te’o, this will all work out in the end. It may be hard coming to terms with the truth, but it will all be just fine and he’ll proudly take the field in an NFL uniform in August. I promise.” Te’o, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honor, is expected to be selected by an NFL team in the first round of the league’s draft of college grads.

Tags: Sports

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