In 2012 former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was in the midst of a Heisman Trophy caliber season when he found himself in the middle of a catfishing scandal that shocked the college football world.
Stanford student Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s alleged girlfriend at the time, had reportedly died from leukemia in September of 2012.
Through investigations by Deadspin, it turned that wasn’t true. And Kekua wasn’t even a real person ― just an online persona.
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Te’o, who went on to have an eight-year NFL career, had said his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and Kekua had died on the same day, Sept. 12, 2012. The following January, Deadspin reporters conducted an investigation into the Kekua’s identity following an anonymous tip that she didn’t exist.
It was later reported that Kekua was just a persona portrayed by Tuiasosopo, a man that Te’o knew.
“I didn’t expect it to blow up so quickly,” Tuiasosopo, referred to as “Naya” said in the documentary trailer. “This is about to hit the fan.”
With the relationship almost exclusively online, Tuiasosopo reportedly used various methods to conceal his identity, including representing himself to Te’o as Kekua’s cousin in person, and also using his female cousin for Kekua’s voice. Tuiasosopo later admitted to the hoax, saying he grew feelings for Te’o and used the fake identity to express them.
“My whole world changed and I’m questioning everything,” Te’o said in the documentary.
Projected to be a high-round pick in that year’s NFL Draft, Te’o also said he was worried the scandal would affect his future. Te’o went on to get drafted by the Chargers in the second round of the 2013 Draft and also spent time with the Saints and Bears during his career.
He recorded 307 tackles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks over eight seasons.