Manti Te'o fake girlfriend hoax leaves more questions than answers

Manti Te'o
Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts after beating the Michigan State Spartans 20-3 at Spartan Stadium Stadium on September 15, 2012, in East Lansing, Michigan.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

(CBS News) SOUTH BEND, Ind. - You'd be hard pressed to find a college football player who had a better reputation than Manti Te'o, the linebacker for Notre Dame.

He came in second for the Heisman trophy -- all of that while overcoming a personal tragedy.

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Or at least that was the story -- until last night.

Critics said the Notre Dame all-American played for the national championship as if he had something other than football on his mind, and maybe he did.

Manti Te'o had been riding a wave of sympathy and celebrity all season long due to the melodramatic tale of his college girlfriend from Stanford.

Te'o described her as a victim of a car accident and leukemia who supposedly died last September, ending a long-distance, mostly online romance with the linebacker.

In October he lovingly recalled her on ESPN. "[She's] the most beautiful girl I've ever met, not because of her physical beauty, but the beauty of her character and who she is."

But it turns out the girl named Lennay Kekua never existed, as Jack Dickey -- a writer for the sports blog Deadspin -- discovered.

Jack Dickey of Deadspin
Jack Dickey of Deadspin CBS News

"Well, okay; 22-year-old Stanford grad gets in a car accident, contracts leukemia and then dies. That's a big tragedy that's going to be written up somewhere. It wasn't. There was no death notice, no obituary, no announcement of her funeral," Dickey said.

On December 6, Te'o allegedly learned in a phone call from somebody that his girlfriend was a concoction with a fake Twitter account. He didn't alert Notre Dame to what he called a hoax for 20 more days, and the university didn't go public until Deadspin published its story on Wednesday.

By remaining silent, Notre Dame left unchallenged numerous stories about Te'o's supposedly tragic love story in the run-up to the BCS championship game on January 7.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick acknowledged the school did not encourage Te'o to set the record straight before the game.

"This was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand, but had a certain cruelty at its core," Swarbrick.

On Wednesday night, Te'o released a statement calling the episode " incredibly embarrassing."

"A painful and humiliating ...sick joke," the statement said.

But on at least two occasions after he said he learned of the hoax, Te'o spoke to reporters of his girlfriend and said she had died from leukemia. It's all still very confusing.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.