The Epic Manti Te’o Story: Today We Are All Catfish

Catfish was a documentary that came out a couple years ago about a New York dude who supposedly got caught up in an online relationship with a girl from rural Michigan who wasn’t real (I suspect he figured this out quickly, but went along with it and made it seem like he was slowly picking up clues along the way to the “big discovery,” so as to make for a better-paced narrative… but that’s another story). Today, our “Life Imitating Art” tag picked up another entry thanks to an epic piece of investigative reporting from Deadspin‘s Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, who uncovered the news that Notre Dame’s Heisman runner up linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, previously thought to have died of leukemia, a heartbreaking story covered everywhere from CBS to Sports Illustrated, never actually existed in the first place. If you haven’t read that piece yet, definitely grab some popcorn and buckle up, and bring some cigarettes for your mind because it’s about to get blown.

The story is so strangely similar to the Catfish documentary, the star of the movie even makes a strange cameo appearance, via a second fake twitter account belonging to “Uilani Rae,” the fake sister of the fake girlfriend, Lennay Kekua:

A few weeks later, the @uilanirae account was deleted. The deletion came immediately after tweets from two now-suspended Twitter accounts had alleged that U’ilani was a fraud, that the same person behind Lennay was operating the U’ilani account, and that the images of “U’ilani” were really of a woman named Donna Tei.

In yet another now-deleted tweet, Tei herself reached out to Nev Schulman, star of the 2010 film Catfish and executive producer of the MTV program of the same title. Schulman’s movie and show are about romantic deception through fake online personas.

The only real question now, it seems, is whether Manti Te’o was the catfisher or the catfishee.

A friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo [Kekua’s alleged creator] told us he was “80 percent sure” that Manti Te’o was “in on it,” and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o together on Tuiasosopo’s now-deleted Instagram account.

The sheer quantity of falsehoods about Manti’s relationship with Lennay makes that friend, and another relative of Ronaiah’s, believe Te’o had to know the truth. Mostly, though, the friend simply couldn’t believe that Te’o would be stupid enough—or Ronaiah Tuiasosopo clever enough—to sustain the relationship for nearly a year.

Notre Dame, predictably, quickly responded with a statement saying Te’o is the victim:

Notre Dame Statement: Manti Te’o

On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.

Dennis Brown
University Spokesman | Assistant Vice President

“We found out December 26th and initiated an investigation that we conveniently didn’t tell anyone about.” Sounds unlikely, but in any case, the comments on that post are way funnier than any joke I’m going to make here, but I think this was my favorite:

Rodney Boles: LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. What is next, we find out Rudy wasn’t even a real Hobbit?

Well now that is just well done.

Thanks to Avery F for reminding me of this song.