In a hastily-called press conference on Wednesday after a Deadspin report revealed that Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend never existed and her death was a hoax, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Te’o was the victim of a “cruel” and “elaborate” hoax. He revealed details about when Te’o and the university first found out about the hoax.
Swarbrick said Te’o first found out about the hoax during the ESPN awards dinner in Orlando on December 6. According to Swarbrick’s account, Te’o received “a phone call from a number he recognized as having been that he associated with Lennay Kekua. When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same voice he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead.”
“Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine,” Swarbrick said.
According to Swarbrick, three weeks later, on the morning of December 26th, Te’o called his coaches, specifically head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, to inform them of what he allegedly discovered on December 6th. Te’o met with Swarbrick on December 27th. And Swarbrick met with university officials shortly after. The university hired a private investigative firm, which provided them with the results of the investigation on January 4. The university–and Te’o’s family–will not release the results of the investigation. Notre Dame never contacted the police or the NCAA.
Swarbrick said while we “still don’t know all of the dimensions of this,” he was confident that this was an “elaborate and sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we fully do not understand.”
“This is Manti’s story to tell, which he is going to do,” Swarbrick said. “Manti was a victim of the and he will carry that with him for awhile. “Manti was perfect mark because he was so willing to believe in others.”
Swarbrick referred reporters to “Catfish,” the MTV show which he said was “a derivative of that documentary, and the sort of associated things you’ll find online and otherwise about catfish or catfishing.”
He said it was a scam covered by people such as Dr. Phil, and “it’s perpetrated with shocking frequency for me shocking as an older guy who’s not as versed in the online world and it is just as this one. An initial casual engagement, a developing relationship online, a subsequent trauma traffic accident, illness and then a death.”
When asked why Te’o waited three weeks to tell Notre Dame about the Hoax, Swarbrick said Te’o “wanted to talk to his parents, and he wanted to talk to them in person. He went home for Christmas break.”
That’s Manti. That’s the son he is. He wanted to have that conversation with his parents face to face. He wanted to consult with them, wanted to get their advice, and it was on the basis of that conversation, after having concluded it, that he called us.
Swarbrick said the university was worried questions about the nonexistent girlfriend could come up (though he said he did not know CBS ran a glowing profile of Te’o, which referenced his girlfriend’s death, the morning of the BCS title game) and the school “encouraged him to try to focus forward and focus on the game and not draw attention backward, if he could.”
He also said Te’o was allegedly going to publicly reveal the hoax next week and may have a press conference “sometime” on Thursday.
A source told Deadspin that there was an 80% chance Te’o may have been complicit in the Hoax, but Swarbrick adamantly insisted Te’o was the victim of a “cruel” and “elaborate” hoax.