|The Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax has left the Heisman finalist "sick" and "humiliat[ed]." (US Presswire)|
The college football world was thrown into a frenzy Wednesday afternoon when Deadspin reported that the girlfriend of Notre Dame star linebacker and Heisman finalist Manti Te'o -- whom he had mourned after her midseason death from leukemia -- did not, in fact, exist and appeared to be an elaborate hoax.
Though Deadspin suggested Te'o could have been complicit in the deception, Notre Dame issued a statement on the report Wednesday defending Te'o as the victim of the hoax. It reads in full:
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 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 also released a statement late Wednesday. It reads:
"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."
Te'o is projected as a top-20 selection in April's draft.
Tim Burke, one of the authors in the Deadspin piece, joined Doug Gottlieb on CBS Sports Radio's Doug Gottlieb Show on Wednesday afternoon to explain the work that went into the story. Deadspin was initially alerted about the hoax via a reader email, but it was not until Burke and Jack Dickey began digging that the absurdity of the situation began to reveal itself.
Listen to the interview here: