Manti T'eo might or might not have been in one of the biggest and most bizarre publicity hoaxes in modern sports.
Manti T'eo was one of the biggest stars of college football this year, leading the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to the BCS Championship Game against Alabama and a finalist for the game's biggest individual award, the Heisman trophy.
One of the stories that thrust him into the national spotlight was the star linebacker playing through the adversity of suffering through the death of his grandmother and girlfriend within the same week. His story captured the hearts of not only the University of Notre Dame, but the entire sports world.
According to Deadspin, not only did Te'o's girlfriend not die in the days leading up the Michigan State game where he racked up 12 tackles and a fumble recovery in a 20-3 victory, she didn't exist at all. T'eo's make-believe girlfriend named Lennay Kekua was an online persona created by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te'o's and a pastor at a church in Palmdale, Calif.
"We know it's a hoax... The only question out there is exactly what Manti knew about it," Timothy Burke, one of the authors of the piece on Deadspin, said during an appearance Wednesday on CBS Radio.
The University of Notre Dame has recently released a statement on the situation, confirming their knowledge of the hoax. "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 statement read.
"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."
The complexity of the hoax went as far as creating friends of the faux Kekua, one of which was named "U'ilani Rei." Her twitter account was shut down once people suspected that the page was also a hoax and the person whose pictures were use, Donna T'ei, became aware of it. T'ei herself reached out to Nev Schulman on Twitter, star of the 2010 film Catfish and executive producer of the hit MTV program of the same name. That tweet has since been deleted.
What is known for sure is that T'eo's dead girlfriend is a hoax. Whether or not T'eo knew about it is still up for debate. But as the kids say, the jig is up. Did T'eo get Catfish'd or did America?
[Spotted at Deadspin]