A story about Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia, which the Notre Dame All-American linebacker credited with motivating him as he led his team to the BCS championship game, turned out be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the Heisman Trophy candidate, the university said Wednesday.
The school issued a press release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The school said that on December 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself with Te'o and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had died of leukemia," the university said.
The school said the proper authorities are investigating a "very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators." The university would not disclose specifically who was investigating the case.
The week prior to Notre Dame's contest against Michigan State on September 15, head coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te'o's grandmother and friend had died. Te'o played in the game. He said Kekua told him not to miss the game if she died. Te'o had one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 win in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a significant theme during the Fighting Irish's unbeaten regular season.
Te'o went on to become a Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing second in the overall voting and leading Notre Dame to its first BCS championship game.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Te'o said, "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. ...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."