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Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o may have been living out his own episode of MTV’s Catfish. The linebacker’s online relationship with a young woman, who died of cancer last year, was revealed Wednesday to have been a hoax.
During a press conference, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick evoked Catfish and a 2010 documentary of the same name, both of which chronicle stories of people duped into entering online relationships with fictitious people.
Nev Schulman, a host of the show and subject of the documentary, weighed in on the situation, telling MTV it doesn’t make a difference that Te’o is a well-known athlete.
“My reaction is, quite frankly, no different from my reaction on the show. It doesn’t really change anything for me that this victim is a high-profile football player. I think it can and obviously does happen to anyone,” he said.
Schulman also was tricked into a relationship, which was chronicled in the Catfish documentary. And while he wouldn’t speculate on whether Te’o is a victim of a hoax, as the linebacker and Notre Dame maintain, he said he understands how it could happen.
“I very much got sucked into a relationship — it wasn’t my intention, but it happened to me — and it happens slowly over time,” he said. “And, of course, when you read an article all at once where it reveals all these stories and all these details, it seems crazy, but in the process of it, as it happens very slowly, things don’t seem so crazy. And then, of course, when you look at it all in one snapshot, it does sort of seem kind of unbelievable.”
Deadspin, which originally broke the story of the hoax, reported that a woman whose image was used on an account claiming to belong to the sister of Te’o’s girlfriend contacted Schulman for advice. The MTV host confirmed a woman named Donna Tei contacted him for help because her image was being used on a fake profile.
Te’o’s relationship with Lennay Kekua, supposedly a 22-year-old Stanford student, was chronicled by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBS and other outlets. Kekua was said to have been injured in a car accident and comatose for a period. Six months later, she died of Leukemia, the same day Te’o’s grandmother died. The football star made headlines by going on to lead the Fighting Irish to a surprise victory against Michigan State later that day.
According to Notre Dame’s Swarbrick, Te’o never met his girlfriend in person, but did interact with a cast of characters online and by phone, including her friends and family.
Te’o issued a statement Wednesday, saying “To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”
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