A California man said he created the hoax in which former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o fell for a fake, online girlfriend because he was in love with the football player.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw for the “Dr. Phil Show,” the first part of which aired today.
The 22-year-old Tuiasosopo said he built the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te’o said he fell for without ever meeting in person and later believed to have died of leukemia.
Tuiasosopo said he felt Kekua was a part of him, and grew feelings and emotions for Te’o that he could not control. He acknowledged that the hoax was cruel, but said it was never intended as a joke and that he got no financial gain from it.
“I pretty much had this escape of Lennay and this was where my heart had pretty much invested, not just time, but all of my energy went into this,” he said.
“As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person,” he said, referring to Te’o. “I did all that I could to help this person become a better person, even though I wasn’t getting nothing out of it.”
When the ruse was reported by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16, the report raised the questions about whether Te’o was involved. The story about how the All-American played through pain learning about the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother on the same day led to an outpouring of support from Notre Dame fans. It became the backdrop to the Fighting Irish’s undefeated regular season and run to the BCS championship, where they lost to Alabama.
Tuiasosopo said Te’o knew nothing of the hoax, and doesn’t believe he ever suspected Kekua wasn’t real.
“He had no involvement,” Tuiasosopo said. “He did not know anything.”