A Deadspin.com report earlier this week asserted that Lennay Kekua, the alleged dead girlfriend of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o, was a figment of someone’s imagination, and the name that Deadspin proposed as the mastermind behind the Kekua persona is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Te’o, a Heisman finalist, made headlines during the 2012 football season. In September, shortly after the death of his grandmother and the purported death of Kekua, Te’o led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 victory over then No. 10 Michigan State. The Irish went undefeated during the regular season but lost in the national championship game to Alabama on Jan. 7.
Earlier this week, Deadspin released its report, which said Kekua never existed and that Tuiasosopo was likely behind the hoax. Shortly thereafter, Notre Dame football and Te’o himself substantiated the report.
Still, much is unknown about the person Deadspin named as the person behind the hoax. Tuiasosopo is described in the original report as a talented former high school football player from Southern California who, after graduating from high school, became a musician at the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley.
Tuaisosopo apparently wasn’t satisfied to sing solely at his father’s church. Us Weekly reported Friday morning that Tuiasosopo auditioned for the upcoming season of NBC’s “The Voice,” but didn’t make the cut. The report also details how Tuaisosopo approached the producers with a heart-wrenching story, a story that in the wake of the Deadspin report, the producers now believe to be fake.
The authors of the original Deadspin report assert that Tuaisosopo and Te’o know each other, a fact confirmed by Manti Te’o’s uncle, Alema Te’o. Alema Te’o runs the All-Poly football camp, a high school football camp in Salt Lake City, and a similar camp run in American Samoa on behalf of Troy Polamalu, All-Pro strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I believe that he actually had a girl staged to be Lennay Kekua,” Alema Te’o said in an interview on Salt Lake City radio station 1280 AM The Zone, “and sent her out there or made arrangements so that she could be out there. I wouldn’t put it past this guy to do that.
“Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a liar, he concocted the whole thing, he misrepresented whatever program that he was trying to get across to Manti, and shoot, he lied every step of the way. I don’t feel it’s beyond him to hire somebody or bring somebody in to play the role of Lennay to get Manti to buy into this deal.”
The idea that Tuiasosopo would have had someone pretend to be Kekua seems to have merit. Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia told ESPN on Wednesday that he actually met someone claiming to be Lennay Kekua in Samoa before she and Manti Te’o were in a relationship.
“I am close to her family,” Mauia said to ESPN. “I offered a comforting shoulder and just someone to bounce her emotions off. That was just from meeting her in Samoa.”
The ESPN report says that Tuiasosopo introduced Kekua to Mauia and that Mauia described her as an athletic, tall, beautiful woman with long hair and a “volleyball-type of physique.”
“She looked like a model,” he told ESPN.
In the lengthy radio interview, Alema Te’o said he first met Tuaisosopo in Los Angeles when Notre Dame played USC late last year.
“He said … that he did all these fundraisers for leukemia and that he was doing some things currently on behalf of Lennay, this so-called Manti’s girlfriend.
“During the course of that conversation, there were a number of things that raised a bunch of red flags to me. He made comment that he was with Troy Polamalu at the Polamalu foundation doing football camps and helping with the music side of things, which was not true.”
When asked how he knew that wasn’t true, Alema Te’o said he knew because he was in charge of the camp and had never met Tuiasosopo previously.
“He told me that he stayed at the hotel and that he was in on all the planning, which was not true because I conducted all the meetings. I was the guy who was over the entire camp …
“Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have blown that guy up right then and there.”
Similarly, the author of the original Sports Illustrated cover story that was published in September, ‘The Full Manti,’ told the “Dan Patrick Show” that he also saw red flags while covering the story but felt he could write around the missing details because the scope of the Kekua deception was nearly universal when he wrote his article.
“Not only was Manti obviously duped here,” he said, “but the entire campus was duped to the point where Father Paul Doyle said to me, ‘I think I met the girl last year.’ … By the time I got to Manti Te’o, there wasn’t a whole lot of ‘Does she exist?’ thinking in my head.
“There was a whole level of detail there, where when those little red flags — Oh, she didn’t show up in Nexis; Oh, I can’t find her brother’s name to spellcheck it — you were able to write around it because you had a whole football team, university community and country.”
In the interview with The Zone, Alema Te’o hinted that Tuiasosopo could have been trying to get close to Te’o for money, fame or both.
“All the while this guy’s saying all this, I’m saying to myself, ‘This guy’s just trying to get close to Manti so that he can get an endorsement, or plant some seeds for some things down the future or get Manti to come to the events where he’ll boost up any type of revenue that they could get. I had a bad feeling about this guy.”
In the wake of this week’s news, Titus Tuiasosopo, the pastor of the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley and father of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, released a statement on Facebook in which he expressed gratitute for the support shown to his “aiga,” the Samoan word for family.
“There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe the overwhelming love & support me & my Aiga have received today. Feels like I’ve been drinking from a fire hydrant. lol. Your texts, calls, emails, prayers & messages are received with a sincerely humble heart. I know so much has been splattered all over the media about my son & my family. I also know that many who were born in a manger in Bethlehem & continue to walk on water will undoubtedly express their opinions.
“Those of you who know us the best still love us the most. It is my hope & prayer that we allow the truth to take its course, wherever that may lead. My heart goes out to Manti & the Te’o Aiga. Please allow this young man to pursue his dream without judgement. He’s an amazing role model for our youth and Samoan community. I love U all from the bottom of my heart. Your friend, Titus.”
Landon Hemsley is the sports content manager for DeseretNews.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @EarlOfHemsley