ESPN interviews Te’o about dead girlfriend hoaxAssociated Press
SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Manti Te’o gave an interview to ESPN in which the network says he answered questions about the dead girlfriend hoax that exposed the feel-good story of the college football season as a bizarre fabrication, and left many wondering if Notre Dame Heisman Trophy runner-up participated in the scam.
ESPN announced Friday night it was interviewing the All-American linebacker off camera and that audio clips of the session would be available on the network later.
Earlier, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said during the taping of his weekly radio show that Te’o has to explain exactly how he was duped into an online relationship with a fictitious woman whose “death” was then faked by perpetrators of the scheme.
Skeptics have questioned the versions of events laid out by Te’o and Notre Dame, wondering why Te’o never said his relationship was with someone online and why he waited almost three weeks to tell the school about being duped.
According to Notre Dame, Te’o received a call on Dec. 6 from the girl he had only been in contact with by telephone and online, and who he thought had died in September. After telling his family what happened while he was home in Hawaii for Christmas, he informed Notre Dame coaches on Dec. 26.
Notre Dame said it hired investigators to look into Te’o's claims and their findings showed he was the victim of an elaborate hoax.
Te’o released a statement on Wednesday, soon after Deadspin.com broke news of the scam with a lengthy story, saying he had been humiliated and hurt by the “sick joke.” But he has laid low since.
ESPN officials posted a photo on Twitter late Friday night of reporter Jeremy Schapp with Te’o and his attorney. Te’o has been working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, as he prepares for the NFL combine and draft.
Swarbrick said earlier in the day that he believed Te’o would ultimately speak publicly.
“We are certainly encouraging it to happen,” he said. “We think it’s important and we’d like to see it happen sooner rather than later.”
He said that before the Deadspin story, Te’o and his family had planned to go public with the story Monday.
“Sometimes the best laid plans don’t quite work, and this was an example of that. Because the family lost the opportunity in some ways to control the story,” he said. “It is in the Te’o family’s court. We are very much encouraging them.”
Former National Football League coach Tony Dungy, who mentored Michael Vick when he returned to the NFL after doing prison time, had similar advice.
“I don’t know the whole case but I always advise people to face up to it and just talk to people and say what happened,” Dungy said while attending the NCAA convention in Dallas on Friday. “The truth is the best liberator, so that’s what I would do. And he’s going to get questioned a lot about it.”
Te’o led a lightly regarded Fighting Irish team to a 12-0 regular season and the BCS title game, where they were routed 42-14 by Alabama and Te’o played poorly.
Dungy said Te’o could face the toughest questions from NFL teams.
“If I was still coaching and we’re thinking about taking this guy in the first round, you want to know not exactly what happened but what is going on with this young man and is it going to be a deterrent to him surviving in the NFL and is it going to stop him from being a star,” Dungy said. “So just tell the truth about what happened and this is why, I think, that’s the best thing.”
Deadspin reported that friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old who lives in California, believe he created Kekua. The website also reported Te’o and Tuiasosopo knew each other — which has led to questions about Te’o's involvement in the hoax.
Swarbrick understands why there are questions.
“They have every right to say that,” Swarbrick said “Now I have some more information than they have. But they have every right to say that. … I just ask those people to apply the same skepticism to everything about this. I have no doubt the perpetrators have a story they will yet spin about what went on here. I hope skepticism also greets that when they’re articulating what that is.”