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Te’o, he and his family have said, was the victim of a hoax. He was “catfished,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference yesterday – a reference to the 2010 documentary (which is subject to its own suspicions) that details a young man’s relationship over Facebook with a non-existent young woman.
“In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark because he’s the guy who was so willing to believe in others,” Swarbrick said. “The pain was real. The grieving was real. The affection was real.”
Much of Te’o’s relationship was built over Twitter, according to news reports, with occasional phone calls. The photos run by news media of the alleged girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, came from a different, unsuspecting woman’s Facebook page.
“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,” the football player said in a statement yesterday. “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.”
“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”