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NFL hopes dashed? Where the Manti Te’o hoax stops, starts is still a mystery

In this Sept. 15, 2012 photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o points to the sky as he leaves the field after a 20-3 win against Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. In a shocking announcement, Notre Dame said Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" from leukemia was faked by perpetrators of an elaborate hoax. (AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, James Brosher)

It’s all some kind of hoax, and we’re not sure where it ends and where it begins. We don’t fully know Manti Te’o’s involvement, but now we do know that his girlfriend that died of Leukemia never existed. The list of theories about what happened and what will become of his potential NFL career are growing.

Deadspin broke the story Wednesday afternoon. The Notre Dame linebacker, who came in second in the voting for the Heisman, had a tale of grief and triumph told to a variety to ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the South Bend Tribute, that was eventually picked up by other new outlets, and was generally agreed to be a touching story of love now-lost.

But it wouldn’t end there.

“We hold the mainstream sports media accountable, that’s what we do here at Deadspin,” Jack Dickey one of the reporters behind the college sports expose, told the Andrew Walsh Show.

Te’o was on the cover of ESPN, telling the story of how his grandmother and girlfriend tragically died just hours apart. While Te’o’s grandmother did pass away, there has never been a record of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua. No birth record, no record that she went to Stanford (where the two allegedly met after a football game,) no record of the car accident she had months before she died, and no record of her death.

Dickey said Deadspin got a tip on Friday, and from there they tracked down the Twitter avatar in Kekua’s photo, which led them to her high school classmate – the actor believed to be Kekua, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

Tuiasosopo is a part of a large football family, including a couple local connections. Manu Tuiasosopo, “a cousin from an older generation,” went to Seattle in the first day of the 1979 draft. Manu’s son, Marques, played for Washington before getting drafted by Oakland in 2001.

Tuiasosopo and Te’o knew each other, so amidst the tales of love, and love lost told by Te’o, his father, and then replayed on shows like “CBS This Morning,” these two men knew each other.

Now that the dust is settling, we don’t know for sure that Manti Te’o knew he was being “catfished.” There is evidence Kekua was an online persona that tried to romance other men, including another football player.

Some speculation has included that the heart wrenching tale was a part of his Heisman campaign.

“This is really new territory,” NPR and Slate sports correspondent Mike Pesca told The Luke Burbank Show. He said that since the story was published, both Notre Dame and ESPN came forward to say they had already discovered it was a hoax.

Notre Dame had a private investigator look into the situation, and feel that up until just recently, Manti Te’o had been tricked – the whole way through. They say that they will not release the details of their investigation.

Meanwhile, ESPN had received tips similar to Deadspin, but weren’t ready to publish the story yet.

There is a gullibility factor, said Pesca. “There are just too many different points at which someone would have figured that out.”

Pesca said he’s surprised no one looked into the background Kekua before publishing an article on Te’o. He said that sometimes in journalism, reporters will take someone off the wire without fact checking it, which he says makes sense if you’re casually repeating the story, or trying to convey the gist of an entire conversation.

“It’s that ESPN did a full sit down interview with him,” he said. “They still employ fact checkers.”

In the article that sparked much of the wide-spread untruths about Kekua, it wasn’t Te’o speaking to a reporter, it was his father.

“His father talks about them physically meeting, their eyes meeting, them holding hands, and things like that, and this article was written in October,” said Pesca. “So I’m just kind of wondering why Brian Te’o (Manti’s father) would be saying this stuff. Maybe Manti told him, maybe he was fleshing out or embellishing the truth to tell the journalist a good story.”

Regardless of how much of the truth Manti Te’o knew, or if someone had kept the wool over his eyes the whole time – Pesca doesn’t think it would hurt his chances of playing in the NFL.

“Fifteen percent of NFL players lose all their money,” said Pesca. “So being gullible does not disqualify his career in the NFL.”

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