|Te'o Listens to 'Girlfriend's' Voice on 'Katie'|
|By CHRISTINA NG (@ChristinaNg27)||Jan 24, 2013, 11:05 AM|
Manti Te'o listened today on national television to taped phone calls from his fictitious girlfriend, including one in which "Lennay" was in a jealous fit and another telling him, "I love you so much."
As he was hearing the recordings, Te'o looked at interviewer Katie Couric and said, "Doesn't that sound like a girl?"
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To this day, the star Notre Dame linebacker says he does not know who impersonated girlfriend Lennay Kekua for several years, including months of intense daily calls that sometimes lasted hours.
Couric asked the Notre Dame star linebacker in her exclusive interview whether Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- who Te'o claims called him on Jan. 16 and confessed to engineering the hoax -- had impersonated the voice. A lawyer for Tuiasosopo is quoted in the New York Daily News saying it was Tuiasosopo who impersonated Te'o's girlfriend.
"Well, it didn't sound like a man. It sounded like a woman," Te'o said to Couric. "If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's an incredible talent to do that, especially every single day."
Te'o, 21, has been alternately questioned and lampooned over his role in the hoax that led him and the public to believe that his girlfriend died of leukemia as Te'o led the Notre Dame football team to an undefeated season that culminated in the national championship game. The sympathetic story also surfaced as Te'o's named was being mentioned as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to the best college football player in the country. Te'o was eventually the runner-up for the trophy.
Te'o admitted that even he wondered early on if this girl that was too good to be true and asked some of her friends about her and wanted to know if anyone had met her in person.
To his friend identified only as Lyell, Te'o wrote in a Facebook message, "I was just wondering because it does seem kinda weird and so I was like wondering if it was something else pulling a prank or something."
The friend assured Te'o that she was not a "fake person."
"Since I didn't meet her and I didn't see her in person and she just seemed nice and from the pictures she seemed very beautiful, and I needed to find kind of somebody who knew her and supposedly met her and ask them, 'Hey, is this person real?'" Te'o said.
A skeptical Couric repeatedly pressed Te'o on some of the hoax's red flags.
"Are you that technologically challenged?" she asked him when he said video chats with Lennay never worked because of a so-called camera problem that only showed a black box where Lennay's face should have been.
"Either you are the most naïve person on the planet or this is the saddest story ever written," she said at another point in her exclusive interview.
When the football player explained that scheduling conflicts and other issues prevented him from visiting his "dying" girlfriend in the hospital, Couric said, "Manti, that just really doesn't make sense to me."
Rumors have swirled that perhaps the fake girlfriend was a cover for Te'o's sexuality.
"Are you gay?" Couric asked him.
"No. Far from it. Faaar from that," he said with a chuckle.
Te'o said he still doesn't know why he was the victim of a hoax that left him scared, confused and the butt of countless jokes.
Te'o says Tuiasosopo has spoken to him by Twitter and then in a phone call to confess to engineering the elaborate hoax, but gave little explanation for his actions.
"He just basically... explained what he did and why he did it," Te'o told Couric. But he added, "He didn't say why [he did it]. He just explained that he wanted to help people and that was his way of helping people, of being someone that he wasn't..."
"Obviously, it didn't really help me out, but, you know, I didn't really say anything. I was still speechless. I just found out everything that I believed to be my reality wasn't actually reality at all."
Manti Te'o Biggest Regret in the Hoax
Te'o said Tuiasosopo broke the news to him about the prank in a direct message on Twitter on Jan. 16.
An excerpt of the message said, "It's the 16th. I wanted to tell you everything today. I will not say anything to anyone else before I tell you everything. I would and will never say anything bad about you or your family. I completely accept the consequences to the pain I've caused and it's important that you know the entire truth before anyone else."
Teo said he received a call on December 6 from the woman he thought was dead telling him she was alive. Two days later, he spoke about Lennay's death from cancer at a Heisman Trophy ceremony where he was interviewed.
"That's a lie. Why would you say that?" Couric asked.
"Well, at that time, I didn't know," Te'o said. "To be honest with you, I did not know."
"I mean, you knew something," she pressed. "You stuck to the script and you knew that something was amiss, Manti."
"Katie, put yourself in my situation," he said. "My whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. The girl who I committed myself to died on Sept. 12. Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6 saying that she's alive and that I'm going to be put on national TV two days later and to ask me the same question. You know, what would you do?"
Te'o said he worried what everyone he had inspired would think if he hadn't told the truth.
"I did not know who to turn to. I did not know who to tell. I did not know who to trust," he said. "That's the truth. I was just scared, and I didn't know what to do."
He eventually came clean to his parents.
Te'o's parents, Brian and Ottilia Te'o, were also on the show and teared up over their son's efforts to explain himself, including that his biggest regret was lying to his father about Kekua.
"I think the biggest lie that I'm sorry for is the lie that I told my dad," he said. "As a child, your biggest thing is to always get the approval of your parents and for me I was so invested in Lennay and getting to know her that when dad asked me, 'Hey, did you meet her?" I said, 'Yeah.'"
Mrs. Te'o defended her son with a tremor in her voice. She said her son "did exactly what I would expect a responsible, respectable young man to do, to extend himself to someone who said that they lost their father and now they have cancer. I'm proud of his character."
His father, who dwarfed the star football player while sitting next to him, wiped his eyes in praising his son.
"I'm proud of this guy. I really am, and nothing that has happened in the last couple of weeks is going to take that away… I love him. I really do," Brian Te'o said.
"The greatest joy of any child's life is to make your parents proud," Manti Te'o said after a brief pause to compose himself. "The greatest pain is to know they are experiencing pain because of you."
Te'o has struggled with becoming a national punching bag and the butt of many jokes.
"It's been difficult," he said. "Not only for myself, but to see your last name and just to see it plastered everywhere and to know that I represent so many people and that my family is experiencing the same thing. I think that's what was the most hard for me."
In terms of his prior relationship to Tuiasosopo, Te'o said that it is not true that he and Tuiasosopo were family or even family friends.
"Previous to that conversation that he and I had on Jan. 16, I had only talked to Ronaiah twice and he, from my understanding, was Lennay's cousin," Te'o said. "The only time I would talk to Ronaiah was when I couldn't find Lennay."
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