While Manti Te’o’s interview with Katie Couric probably left more questions than answers, the Notre Dame football player didn’t waver when it came to the two big points: He wasn’t behind the hoax and he’s not gay.
“What I went through was real. The feelings, the pain, the sorrow, that was all real,” Te’o insisted on Wednesday’s episode of “Katie.”
As for the rest of the interview, well, if you believe Te’o was truly the victim, he proved he was certainly a gullible one. His appearance on the talk show marked the first time the 21-year-old spoke on camera about the scandal that broke last week when it was revealed that Te’o’s girlfriend – who had reportedly died of leukemia on the same day his grandmother passed away last year – had never existed and was all part of an online deception. It was later revealed that Te'o’s “friend” Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (who also claimed to be the girlfriend’s cousin) was the mastermind behind the scheme.
Couric pulled no punches with her questions, asking why time and time again Te’o didn’t notice the various red flags. Like when Te’o and the fictitious woman – who went by Lennay Kekua and claimed to be a Stanford University student – tried to video chat several times via FaceTime and all he saw from his end was a black screen.
“Didn’t you think that was a little weird?” Couric asked. (No, actually. He didn’t.)
As for why he didn’t want a girlfriend he could actually spend real time with in person, Te’o said he was hung up on the similarities between them. For example, they were both Polynesian and she knew a lot about his Mormon religion.
And what about the fact that, after coming out of a coma brought on by a car accident, Lennay was suddenly diagnosed with leukemia? Te’o admitted it did make him think. “I thought, ‘How could all this happen to one person?’”
Perhaps the most cringeworthy part of the interview came when he detailed dozens hours-long calls with this woman who was supposedly in a coma at the time, explaining how he’d hear her breathing quicken when he’d speak and could hear respirators in the background. After checking phone records, “Katie” producers did indeed verify the long calls.
And while Te’o adamantly answered “No, never” when Couric asked him if he was in any way part of the hoax and insisted he is not gay when asked if he was trying to cover up his sexual orientation, there are plenty of parts of his story that simply don’t add up.
The athlete couldn’t really explain why, after flying to the West Coast to see Lennay in the hospital and missing his connection from San Diego to Los Angeles (a two-hour drive), he simply didn’t go at all.
He also flat out lied to his father about meeting his girlfriend. (It was his dad who had insisted to reporters that Te’o and Lennay had met in person.) That’s because, when Te’o and Lennay were supposedly in Hawaii at the same time, Te’o left to meet her. But the meeting didn’t take place (what do you know?) after Lennay said her brother took her car. Te’o, however, claims he couldn’t break the news to his dad and instead pretended he did see her.
“The biggest lie I’m sorry for is the lie I told my dad,” he told Couric. “It’s my way of trying to get my dad’s approval of this young lady.”
And yet, it seems Te’o was caught in a lie about lying during the show, stating earlier in the interview: “I wasn’t as forthcoming about it, but I didn’t lie. I never was asked, ‘Did you see her in person?’”
Eventually, Couric brought up the fact that even after finding out Lennay was alive after being told she was dead, he continued to act like she was dead at a press conference a few days later. “You stuck to the script. You knew something was amiss,” said Couric.”
Te’o confessed he panicked: "Part of me was saying if you say she's alive, what will everybody think? What are you going to tell everybody who followed you, who you inspired?”
We may never know if Te’o was in on the hoax, but one thing’s for sure: This woman who didn’t actually exist sure did sound like woman. The show aired three voicemails left for Te’o, all spoken by the same female voice.
“Doesn’t that sound like a girl?” Te’o asked Couric after the first voicemail was played.
“It hurts. That’s my child out there. He always puts others before himself,” Te’o’s father, Brian Te'o, said during a segment with Te’o’s mother, Ottilia. “He did everything I would expect a respectful responsible young man to do. I’m proud of this guy. I really am. Nothing that has happened in the last couple weeks is going to take that away. He’s not a liar. He’s a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man and I love him. I really do.”
As for whether the scandal will affect his future in the NFL, Te’o admitted he wasn’t sure. “As long as my family’s OK I can live with whatever happens.”
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