The Notre Dame athletic department has issued a statement responding to a internet report that is claiming details of star linebacker Manti Te'o's personal life have been fabricated.
The discrepancy involves Te'o's former girlfriend Lennay Marie Kekua, whose widely reported death from leukemia in September helped make the Heisman Trophy runner-up one of college football's most recognizable and popular players of this past season. However, a story posted Wednesday on the website Deadspin.com has alleged that such a person actually never existed.
According to the site, there are no Social Security Administration records confirming that a Lennay Marie Kekua, previously reported to be a 22-year-old Stanford student by several media outlets, actually died. Additionally, the Stanford register's office has no enrollment records of Kekua, nor could Deadspin uncover any official announcements of either her birth or obituary.
A Sports Illustrated story published in October stated that Kekua died less than 24 hours after the passing of Te'o's grandmother, Annette Santiago, who did in fact perish on Sept. 11, with Te'o helping lead the Fighting Irish to an inspirational victory over rival Michigan on the day of Kekua's funeral.
Deadspin also reported that pictures purported to be of Kekua that appeared on the internet and used by the media were actually of a California woman whom the site would not identify.
A statement from Notre Dame released on Wednesday stated that the university was informed by Te'o and his family that the All-American linebacker, who had referenced the story about the relationship with his girlfriend and her death on several occasions, had been deceived by someone claiming to be Kekua and misled to believe she had died of leukemia.
"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 statement read. "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."
Te'o, who won a slew of individual awards and finished second to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in balloting for this year's Heisman Trophy after helping Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, and his family also issued a statement:
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick.
"I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."