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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Manti Te'o Girlfriend Hoax: How Did Nobody at Stanford Catch On?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Has Lance Armstrong sent Te'o a thank you card yet for deflecting all this attention?
  • Has Lance Armstrong sent Te'o a thank you card yet for deflecting all this attention?
There are two basic questions about the Manti Te'o Dead Girlfriend Hoax that we are all asking:

1. Was he, for real, completely fooled all the way up until Dec. 6, as he says?

With time, and enough pre-draft NFL investigations, that'll all probably come out. More interesting, though:

2. How the hell did nobody at Stanford notice that the 22-year old student mentioned on national television, who dated the Heisman Trophy candidate and died from leukemia, did not exist?

As the Stanford Daily sports editor Miles Bennett-Smith told NBC Bay Area:

I was a little upset because if someone told me Teo's girlfriend was a Stanford student, I would have said, 'Absolutely not,' How would I not have heard about it? Tragic car accident, student who dies from leukemia. And she's Manti Te'o's girlfriend. Every time Stanford played Notre Dame I would have written an article on this.

This is why it's truly confounding. Te'o was, for a college athlete, a well-known name entering this season. The story of his girlfriend's death a week before Notre Dame's game against Michigan State, and his subsequent 12-tackle performance in the Irish's victory had become national news by the end of September.

ESPN broadcast an Oct. 2 interview with him. Sports Illustrated's Oct. 1 issue featured a cover story on Te'o. It mentioned his girlfriend, but did not mention where she went to school because writer Pete Thamel couldn't find her name in the alumni directory. "This was the most glaring sign I missed," he acknowledges in a column today. "I thought that maybe she didn't graduate, so we took any reference to Stanford out of the story."

The first known mention of Kekua's college came on Oct. 12, not coincidentally, the day before Notre Dame played Stanford. According to Deadspin, which broke the news on Wednesday, the South Bend Tribune explained, in a story that has since been removed from its website, that Te'o and Lennay Kekua met after Notre Dame played Stanford in Palo Alto in 2009: "Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes. Kekua, a Stanford student, swaps phone numbers with Te'o."

On Oct. 14, the freaking New York Times wrote, "His girlfriend, who lost a long fight with leukemia, was a Stanford alumnus."

In mid-November, ESPN repeated Kekua's Stanford tie in a 2,000-word article on Te'o: "His 22-year-old girlfriend, Stanford student Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia just eight months after surviving a life-threatening car accident."

By December, the tale was the foundational anecdote of the Manti Te'o narrative. And it was a narrative often repeated: Te'o was the highest-profile college athlete in the country leading the highest-profile college football team in America to an undefeated regular season and the national title game. Even CBS This Morning ran a segment about his boo.

Throughout the big games, and the Heisman hype, and the national championship lead-up there were montages galore. The Stanford link wasn't noted every time, but it was noted at least sporadically.

All in all, Deadspin found, "At least 10 print sources reported she was a Stanford student."

And the myth lived on.

So: How the hell did nobody at Stanford -- from administrators to faculty to students to sports coaches to whomever -- notice that the 22-year-old student mentioned on national television, who dated the Heisman candidate and died from leukemia, did not exist?

Perhaps the most reasonable response is: Why would anyone have questioned such a thing?

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Albert Samaha


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