Longtime Fighting Irish athletic director tells reporters that Te'o was the victim of a "very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax."
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters Wednesday night that star linebacker Manti Te'o was the victim of a "very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax with a certain cruelty at its core." Swarbrick's comments came at an impromptu press conference called hours after news broke that Lennay Kekua - a supposed girlfriend of Te'o's who was said to have died of leukemia during the season, receiving multitudes of media attention and prompting head coach Brian Kelly to dedicate a game to her - was revealed to never have existed in a Deadspin article.
Swarbrick admitted that Kekua was a character in the hoax, but defended Te'o as the victim of that hoax. Swarbrick admitted that the relationship was "exclusively online," though the perpetrators also placed phone calls to Te'o disguised as Kekua. While Te'o and his father had both told reporters previously that Kekua had visited the Te'os in Hawaii, Swarbrick said that Kekua never met Manti Te'o or his family, and that she provided excuses for why she failed to make each planned visit. Te'o was "roped more and more into a trap" set by perpetrators who played multiple characters in the plot. Swarbrick later broke down when discussing the effect on Te'o, "the single most trusting human being [he has] ever met."
The Notre Dame athletic director confirmed a previously-released statement on the football team's Facebook page in which a university spokesman indicated that the school had known about the hoax Dec. 26 - three weeks ago, and nearly two weeks before the BCS National Championship game in which Te'o and the Irish lost to Alabama. Swarbrick said that he met with Te'o on Dec. 27 and 28 to discuss the hoax, then presented the issue to other Notre Dame officials. Te'o answered questions from those officials, as well.
Notre Dame commissioned a private investigation of the matter. The findings of that investigation indicated that a number of individuals were involved in the fraud, and that online chatter among them proved their collusion in perpetrating it. On Jan. 5, he presented the findings of the investigation to the Te'o family and allowed the family to further pursue the matter. Swarbrick said he believed the Te'os planned to release the story next week.
The press conference diverged into the surreal at times, as the 59-year-old Swarbrick attempted to explain to reporters the concept behind the movie Catfish and the MTV show of the same name. Swarbrick also cited Dr. Phil, held back tears on at least one occasion, and frequently sipped from a plastic cup of Panera iced tea.
Te'o released a statement earlier today indicating he was a victim, and that he genuinely believed he was speaking to a real person.