A published story that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia was dismissed by the university Wednesday as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.
Calling him the "perfect mark," University of Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick on Wednesday night grew emotional in explaining that linebacker Manti Te'o was the victim of a "very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax."
"There's a lot of tragedy here. There's a lot of sorrow here. But the thing I am most sad about is," Swarbrick began before composing himself, "that the single, most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able trust in the same way again in his life."
The hastily-called press conference was in response to a detailed, published article about
Teo's supposed California girlfriend who died of leukemia last year.
Throughout Te'o's season - one that ended with him placing second in Heisman trophy voting, and playing in the BCS National Championship game -- the story of his sick girlfriend provided a tragic back story to his triumphs on the field.
"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about," Te'o began in a written statement responding to the article. "Over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. 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," he wrote. "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."
Swarbrick explained that Te'o first became suspicious in early December after receiving a call during an awards ceremony in Orlando from the phone number of his late girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. After a discussion with his family, Swarbrick said Te'o brought the matter to the attention of his coaches on Dec. 26.
Swarbrick said that, based on a report from an investigative firm hired by the school, he believes Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose death was then faked by the perpetrators of the ruse.
"This was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand, but had a certain cruelty at its core," he said. "Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota.'
Swarbrick said the investigators' report indicated those behind the hoax were in contact with each other, discussing what they were doing.
The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. Te'o didn't miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died. Te'o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season.
Te'o has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.
Te'o's mother did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Manti Te'o's full 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. 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."