A man who pretended to be the online girlfriend of the US college footballer Manti Te’o for more than a year, is said to have fallen “deeply, romantically in love” with the star.
In an interview with the Dr Phil show, hoaxer Ronaiah Tuiasosopo said he was “confused” about his sexuality following the two-year relationship with Te’o. He had convinced the Notre Dame linebacker that he was Lennay Kekua, whom he characterised as a 20-something woman who narrowly survived a car crash only to later die of leukemia.
Te’o has denied knowing about the hoax, telling Katie Couric last week that he believed Kekua was real. Te’o never met his “girlfriend” during the course of their two-year courtship, even though he was told she had been “seriously injured” in the car crash. Neither did he attend her “funeral” after her apparent death, although he talked extensively about both events in media interviews.
The full interview with Tuiasosopo will air Thursday on the Dr Phil show. In released extracts, Tuiasosopo said he had wanted to end the relationship with Te’o earlier than he did. Tuiasosopo ultimately ended the hoax by killing off Kekua in early September.
“I wanted to end it because after everything I had gone through, I finally realized that I just had to move on with my life,” Tuiasosopo told Dr Phil McGraw during their interview.
“I had to start just living and let this go. There were many times where Manti and Lennay had broken up, but something would bring them back together whether it was something going on in his life or in Lennay’s life, or in this case, my life.”
Appearing on the Today show on Wednesday morning, McGraw said Tuiasosopo had fallen for Te’o.
“Here we have a young man that fell deeply, romantically in love,” McGraw said. “I asked him straight up: ‘Was this a romantic relationship with you?’ And he says yes. I said: ‘Are you then therefore gay?’ And he said: ‘When you put it that way, yes.’ And then he caught himself and said: ‘I am confused.’”
McGraw said Tuiasosopo had a “number of life experiences that damaged [him] in some very serious ways”. He said he did not believe Te’o was involved in the hoax.
Te’o insists that he always thought Kekua was real, and he genuinely believed she had died in September. He said he received a phone call on 6 December from the voice he had come to know as Kekua, saying she was alive. In interviews after that date Te’o still maintained his story that his girlfriend had died.
A contender for the Heisman trophy in December, Te’o's stock has fallen since Deadspin broke the story of the hoax. NFL team scouts are reportedly preparing to ask hard questions of Te’o at the scouting combine in February, although the player is widely regarded as the best middle linebacker in the draft.