The Manti Te’o saga continues its search for clarity
BY NEIL HAYES Twitter: @bynhayes January 18, 2013 4:30PM
FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2013, file photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o answers a question during media day for the BCS national championship NCAA college football game in Miami. A story that Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia _ a loss he said inspired him to help lead the Irish to the BCS championship game _ was dismissed by the university Wednesday, Jan. 16, as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
Updated: January 18, 2013 4:30PM
If Brian Te’o was angry after the Honolulu Advertiser published a photo of his son getting trucked by Alabama running back Eddie Lacy after Notre Dame’s national championship game debacle, imagine how upset he must be to have media outlets everywhere questioning what his son claims to prize most — his integrity.
That’s why the Notre Dame linebacker caught in a firestorm of controversy over an apparent Internet hoax that may or may not have included Te’o’s participation needs to come clean about the unfolding scandal that has rocked the college football world.
Even Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick wants Te’o to tell his side of the story, “sooner rather than later.”
“I don’t have any specific knowledge as to how and when, but I can’t fathom a circumstance where it doesn’t,” Swarbrick said of Te’o coming forward during his weekly podcast. “I sort of share everybody’s view that it has to happen. We are certainly encouraging it to happen. We think it’s important and we’d like to see it happen sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who has been indentified as the alleged mastermind behind a hoax involving a girlfriend Te’o claims to have had but who turns out never existed, admitted to a friend that he was responsible for duping the Heisman Trophy finalist.
The friend agreed to be interviewed on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” only if she was not identified because she feared for her family’s safety in the wake of an avalanche of publicity in recent days.
The woman said during a recent conversation Tuiasosopo admitted the role he played in what started out as a prank. The woman said his tearful confession included Tuiasosopo claiming Te’o was unaware of the deception and that Tuiasosopo had been involved with similar hoaxes in the past.
“Outside the Lines” interviewed two others who claim a cousin of theirs had the same hoax pulled on them by Tuiasosopo.
“He [Ronaiah] told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. …,” the woman told ESPN. “The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie. He was crying, he was literally crying, he’s like ‘I know, I know what I have to do.’ It was not only Manti, but he was telling me that it’s a lot of people they had done this to.”
The woman said she spoke with Tuiasosopo on Wednesday when news of the hoax was making national news. She said she worries about what Tuiasosopo might do to himself in the wake of the truth about his participation becoming known.
Brian Te’o vowed to blacklist the Advertiser via Facebook and asked readers not to renew subscriptions after an unflattering photo of Manti appeared on the front page the morning after the Irish were routed by Alabama 42-14 in the BCS title game.
Swarbrick said the family planned to go public with the story of Te’o being victimized by a hoax two days before Deadspin.com broke the story Wednesday.
While the former attorney turned athletics director said he remains convinced Te’o is innocent of any wrongdoing, he understands why others are skeptical of a story that in many ways defies logic.
“They have every right to say that,” Swarbrick said. “Now, I have some more information than they have. But they have every right to say that. I don’t feel any sort of ill will toward that position. If I was on the outside of this presented with the only facts I have at this point — and importantly at the time we’re recording this Manti has yet to speak publicly — I think that skepticism is easy to understand. I just ask those people to apply the same skepticism to everything about this.
“I have no doubt the perpetrators have a story they will yet spin about what went on here. I hope skepticism also greets that when they’re articulating what that is.”
Among the more perplexing questions is why, a few hours before the Heisman Trophy Ceremony on Dec. 8, which was two days before Swarbrick claims Te’o was made aware of the hoax, was he still telling reporters his girlfriend died of cancer.
“Me, I don’t like cancer at all,” Teo said at the time. “I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.”
Te’o is currently training for the NFC Combine at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Because he is no longer enrolled as a student at Notre Dame, any decision to agree to an interview would have to be made by either his agent, Tom Condon, or he and his family.
Contributing: Mark Lazerus