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College footballer Manti Te’o will speak on camera for the first time about his online relationship that turned out to be a hoax. Katie Couric has nabbed the interview with the Notre Dame linebacker, which will air Thursday, Jan. 24, on her syndicated daytime talk show Katie on ABC. According to the network, the interview will be prerecorded, and he will appear on the show with his parents, Brian and Ottilia Te’o, who are speaking out for the first time and say they were also victims of the hoax.
Couric and her staff beat out a number of other interviewers who tried to score a sit-down with Te’o, including Oprah Winfrey, according to The New York Times. The spokesman hired by Te’o’s family in recent days, Matthew Hiltzik, is also the longtime spokesman for Couric.
In an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap last week, Te’o denied being a willing participant in the hoax, in which he was apparently duped into dating a fictitious young woman whose death of leukemia made headlines last year.
“Never, ever would I be a part of this,” said Te’o, who was a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy this season.
Among the interview’s revelations: Ronaian Tuiasosopo, who was identified in the Deadspin story breaking news of the hoax as its potential mastermind, called Te’o Jan. 16 to admit he orchestrated the hoax. In addition, an unnamed male and female were involved, though Te’o does not know their identities.
Te’o said he first communicated with the woman, “Lennay Kekua,” via Facebook in winter 2009, and later frequently spoke with her by phone beginning in fall of 2011.
He said despite earlier press statements from him, he never met Kekua in person. The two made plans to meet in his native Hawaii, but she never showed. He said he lied to his father about meeting her, because he feared the elder Te’o would have not supported the relationship if he admitted the truth.
He also admitted to misleading reporters into thinking he had met Kekua in person.
“I knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody I didn’t meet — let alone people find out this girl who died who I was so invested in, I didn’t meet her,” he said. “I kind of notated my stories to have people think ‘Yeah, he met her.’”
In April 2012, a man claiming to be Kekua’s brother contacted Te’o to say she had been seriously injured in a car accident and been rendered comatose. When she finally emerged from the coma, Te’o said he slept with her on the phone line, because she said that was the only way she could fall asleep.
After her supposed death in September 2012, Te’o met a girl and a young man he believed to be cousins of Kekua’s in Los Angeles. That man was Ronaian Tuiasosopo. In the months following her death, he heard from supposed siblings and cousins of Kekua’s often. This growing cast of fictional characters eventually became angry with Te’o for beginning a relationship with another woman.
Te’o said on Dec. 6, he received a call from Kekua’s phone number, and at the other end of the line was the voice of the woman he had been communicating with.
“I just got mad,” he said, recalling the conversation. “I went on a rampage. ‘How could you do this to me?’ I ended that conversation by saying simply this: ‘My Lennay died on September 12.’”
He said at this point he was confused, unsure if Kekua had actually died or not. Her family members told him she’d faked her death to escape drug dealers.
ABC will release previews of Couric’s interview this week.
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