Manti Te’o, the All-American Notre Dame Linebacker who earned national attention last week when his late girlfriend was revealed never to have existed at all, has taped his first on-camera interview since the bombshell story first broke.
Te’o was interviewed by Katie Couric, who will broadcast the conversation Thursday on her daytime talk show, Katie. In the first clip of the conversation to be released online, Te’o — who maintains he was the victim of a hoax — discusses receiving a phone call from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend Lennay Kekua, whom he thought died of cancer in September. The phone call came on December 6; two days later, Te’o spoke of the woman on national TV during the Heisman Trophy ceremony as if he still believed that she had died.
“Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on Sept. 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on Sept. 12,” Te’o said. “Now I get a phone call on Dec. 6 saying that she’s alive, and then I’m going to be put on national TV two days later, and to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?”
In an off-camera interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap on Friday, Te’o said that multiple friends confirmed Kekua’s existence, which helped him overcome the doubts that could have come from never actually meeting her.
“To be honest — to be honest with you, I thought it was natural. It seemed natural,” he explained. “It seemed like, even though I just met her, she knew a lot about me already. No red flags popped up. Initially, when I started to talk to her, obviously, I didn’t see her yet, so I asked other people who knew of her and who had history with her, ‘Is this girl real?’ And all of them said, ‘Yeah, she’s real.’ So that kind of gave me confidence, that, yeah, I’m fine.”
Te’o admitted to “tailoring” his stories to avoid suspicion that he never met Kekua. One of the people he lied to was his father, Brian Te’o, who also sat for an interview with Couric.
“I’ve known him 21 years of his life,” he said. “He’s not a liar. He’s a kid.”