Updated Fri, Jan 18, 2013 9:45 am
2012 was a huge year for Notre Dame football; it was an even bigger year for its star linebacker, senior Manti Te’o. Te’o’s story of perseverance in the face of tragic loss had been widely reported all season. As the story went, Te’o lost his grandmother to cancer Sep. 12, 2012, only to find out a few hours later that he had lost the love of his life, Lennay Kekua, that same day to leukemia. It was a heartbreaking story, a story of a love lost.
But Te’o would respond to the losses by leading the Irish three days later to a 20-3 upset of then No. 10 Michigan State, in a game where he recorded 12 tackles. The senior would go on to have a phenomenal season, finishing second in Heisman voting, and leading the Irish to their best season in decades, all while garnering the nation’s admiration for his perseverance through tragedy, at least it was until Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Deadspin.com broke a story about how the story of how Te’o and Kekua had met, how they had fallen in love and how she had died a tragically young death, was all a hoax. In fact, it turned out Kekua never actually existed at all. Notre Dame and Te’o are claiming the star linebacker was the victim of a cruel joke, a scam. Just an example in the long list of people who were fooled in online relationships.
Deadspin.com editor Timothy Burke, along with his colleague, Jack Dickey, broke the story Wednesday afternoon. Burke is a former Ohio University student and graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, according to his Twitter account.
Burke, told Anderson Cooper Wednesday night that they had received an anonymous email saying that “there was something wrong or weird with Lennay Kekua and you should check her out.” Burke said that he and Dickey started researching Kekua on Google, but could only find articles about her death and relationship with Te’o.
“There was no evidence of her existing in anyway other than after she had allegedly died. We thought that was a little weird,” Burke said.
The two reporters started digging further, calling the Stanford University, where she had supposedly graduated. They contacted funeral homes where it had been reported she had been, soon finding out that the funeral homes had no record of a Lennay Kekua. Then the team started investigating the pictures that had been used in stories about Kekua only to find the real woman they belonged to, who didn’t know Te’o.
“That sort of opened everything up,” Burke told Cooper.
The story immediately set the sports world ablaze with many wondering how so many news organizations could be fooled for so long. Notre Dame held a press conference late Wednesday night to try and control a situation that was already spiraling out of control. Burke has been on a variety of shows since breaking the story, including nationally syndicated radio shows such as the Dan Patrick Show, sharing the details of this mystery.
“He made up things about the nature of her relationship…he found out on Dec. 26 and was then talking about her again before the national championship,” Burke said of Te’o during an interview with NBC Sports Erik Kuselias Wednesday.
The story and Burke and Dickey’s ability to dig down and find the truth under a sea of lies has garnered the attention of a lot of media institutes from around the nation including the Poynter Institute for Journalism.